Hey everybody, welcome to another episode of Weird Biology! Today, I’m going to give you a fresh look at a really weird bird you may have heard of before. So get ready to learn some incredible new facts about this scrappy little football!
Say hello to:
*HEAVY METAL SCREAMING*
All right, so there isn’t much intimidating about a hairy, nocturnal, flightless, island-dwelling bird a little bigger than a chicken. Or so they’d like you to think. Kiwis live in New Zealand, which is fitting because they’re the Hobbits of birds. (Bear with me a minute and put down the torches, please.)
Like Hobbits, Kiwis live in burrows. Also like Hobbits, Kiwis are short, stocky creatures; they grow to be about eighteen inches tall and weigh 7 pounds. (This is just slightly larger than the average chicken and probably larger than you thought they were.) Like Hobbits, Kiwis are voracious omnivores and eat basically anything they can fit in that ridiculous beak. And finally as I’m sure you’ve noticed, Kiwis are prodigiously hairy. Like Hobbits. But finally, a Kiwi would absolutely carry a cursed item to the ends of the earth and throw down with a Ring Wraith out of sheer spite. (Spite is the only emotion the Kiwi can feel.)
See, Kiwis are aggressive, territorial, and extremely tenacious. They defend their territories and burrows against anything and everything, including humans and probably also marauding armies of orcs. Which, since Kiwis have squat muscular legs and extremely sharp claws, is no joke. They’ve been known to sprint out of the underbrush without warning, gouge people in the shin, and sprint away. (It’s a lot less funny when you realize that they’re at least as fast as you are.)
Adding to their sheer tenacious viciousness is the fact that Kiwis are even still around. I don’t know if you guys are super familiar with what usually happens to flightless island-dwelling birds when humans and non-native predators show up, but it’s not good. (HINT: starts with an E and rhymes with “distinction”.)
Hundreds of years ago, westerners arrived on New Zealand and brought dogs and rats with them. These predators have been taking huge tolls on the Kiwi population for a very long time, but Kiwis are fighty tenacious jerks and against all odds they’re still here. For comparison: the Kakapo (New Zealand’s other largish flightless bird) has faced the same problem with introduced predators and is now darn near extinct. Kiwi resilience is in large part thanks to New Zealand’s conservation programs, but also Kiwis are just tough little meanies who don’t know when to quit.
But I’ve saved the most thrashtacularly metal feat of the Kiwi for last. Kiwis form bonded pairs for life (awww), and lay one to two eggs together per year. Which, okay, does not sound like a lot. However, there is an important fact that needs to be brought into consideration:
(Yes, that’s a REAL SIZE COMPARISON. BE GLAD YOU AREN’T A KIWI.)
The egg is absolutely enormous. Like, up to 25% of the mom’s body weight. That’s completely ridiculous and it’s upsetting to even think about. But that big egg makes a big, well-developed chick who comes out of the shell ready to stab you in the shin and sprint into the bushes. They’re literally born ready to throw down and are basically mini-adults. But still adorable.
But unfortunately despite their antagonistic ways, Kiwis are under threat from introduced predators. The good news is that Kiwis are loved, celebrated, and protected by New Zealanders. (Who are justly and rightly invested in their national bird, shin-kicking quirks and all.) There are many conservation programs in place for the embattled Kiwi, and its weirdness is a light that won’t be going out anytime soon.
Shine on, you little weirdos, shine on. (And PLEASE DO NOT KICK ME.)
1. Denisbin, Flickr
2. Hannes Grobe, Wikimedia Commons
3. Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons