Five species and four variations of one species of kiwi are some of the world's rarest and oddest birds. They have many characteristics that are more typical of a mammal than a bird. It is the only bird with nostrils at the end of its bill. Kiwi have been in rapid decline since human introduction of mammals, and may only exist in pest-controlled sanctuaries in 75 years. Image John Gerard Keulemans 1842-1912 Permission of Alexander Turnbull Library.See more Hear the call of North Island brown kiwi
Second only in weight to the extinct elephant bird of Madagascar, the largest moa was the tallest bird on earth, with the top of its' back
6 feet above the ground. Moa were dominant herbivores in an environment dominated by birds. Its only predator was the extinct Haast's eagle, the
largest eagle ever known with a wing span of ten feet. Eleven species of moa were hunted to extinction over a period of 100 years during the 13th and 14th
centuries, immediately after the first human settlement of New Zealand. This was the fastest known extermination in the world of a whole fauna of large animals. Moa were in decline when human hunting started, with only 159,000 birds - a severe reduction from 3 to 12 million thousands of years before the arrival of humans. Image: Frederick William Frohawk 1861-1942 Permission of Alexander Turnbull Library.See more
The flightless birds of New Zealand are a principal feature of the 'edge ecology' of the country. There are 16 extant flightless birds, more than any other region in the world, including 2 rails, 5 ratites (kiwi), 2 teal, one parrot, and 6 penguin. Another 16 flightless species, including 3 rails, 3 wren, and 11 ratites (moa) are extinct.
In an island environment isolated from the rest of the world for more than 80 million years, and free of mammalian predators for more than 20 million years, these birds developed flightlessness and eccentric habits. Each of them filled different ecological functions; moa and kakapo as forest browsers, takahe as grass eaters, and kiwi and wrens as ground insect eaters - roles taken by mammals in other ecosystems.
The tiny Stephens Island wren was the only flightless and the smallest songbird in the world. In 1894 it became the third extinct New Zealand wren after only a few birds were found on the small island by the lighthouse keeper's cat. The ground dwelling bush wren, and Stead's bush wren which were weak fliers have not been seen since the 1960-70s. Only the related rifleman and the South Island rock wren which do fly remain. See more
The weka is another endemic flightless rail that was abundant until the 1980s, but has since been in rapid decline. Surveys in 1991 and 1995 of the main population in the Gisborne region show only 1500 birds. It is New Zealand's odd bird out since it is a predator of the eggs of other birds. See more