KIWI, or Kiwi-Kiwi, the Maori name—first apparently introduced to zoological literature by Lesson in 1828 (Man. d’Ornithologie, ii. 210, or Voy. de laCoquille,” zoologie, p. 418), and now very generally adopted in English—of one of the most characteristic forms of New Zealand birds, the Apteryx of scientific writers. This remarkable bird was unknown till George Shaw described and figured it in 1813 (Nat. Miscellany, pls. 1057, 1058) from a specimen brought to him from the southern coast of that country by Captain Barcley of the ship “Providence.” At Shaw’s death, in the same year, it passed into the possession of Lord Stanley, afterwards 13th earl of Derby, and president of the Zoological Society, and it is now with the rest of his collection in the Liverpool Museum. Considering the state of systematic ornithology at the time, Shaw’s assignment of a position to this new and strange bird, of which he had but the skin, does him great credit, for he said it seemed “to approach more nearly to the Struthious and Gallinaceous tribes than to any other.” And his credit is still greater when we find the venerable John Latham, who is said to have examined the specimen with Shaw, placing it some years later among the penguins (Gen. Hist. Birds, x. 394), being apparently led to that conclusion through its functionless wings and the backward situation of its legs. In this false allocation, James Francis Stephens also in 1826 acquiesced (Gen. Zoology, xiii. 70). Meanwhile in 1820 K. J. Temminck, who had never seen a specimen, had assorted it with the dodo in an order to which he applied the name of Inertes (Man. d’Ornithologie, i. cxiv.). In 1831 R. P. Lesson, who had previously (loc. cit.) made some blunders about it, placed it (Traité d’Ornithologie, p. 12), though only, as he says, “par analogie et a priori,” in his first division of birds, “Oiseaux Anomaux,” which is equivalent to what we now call Ratitae, making of it a separate family “Nullipennes.” At that time no second example was known, and some doubt was felt, especially on the Continent, as to the very existence of such a bird [1]—though Lesson had himself when in the Bay of Islands in April 1824 (Voy. “Coquille,” ut supra) heard of it; and a few years later J. S. C. Dumont d’Urville had seen its skin, which the naturalists of his expedition procured, worn as a tippet by a Maori chief at Tolaga Bay (Houa-houa),[2] and in 1830 gave what proves to be on the whole very accurate information concerning it (Voy. “Astrolabe,” ii. 107). To put all suspicion at rest, Lord Derby sent his unique specimen for exhibition at a meeting of the Zoological Society, on the 12th of February 1833 (Proc. Zool. Society, 1833, p. 24), and a few months later (tom. cit., p. 80) William Yarrell communicated to that body a complete description of it, which was afterwards published in full with an excellent portrait (Trans. Zool. Society, vol. i. p. 71, pl. 10). Herein the systematic place of the species, as akin to the Struthious birds, was placed beyond cavil, and the author called upon all interested in zoology to aid in further research as to this singular form. In consequence of this appeal a legless skin was within two years sent to the society (Proceedings, 1835, p. 61) obtained by W. Yate of Waimate, who said it was the second he had seen, and that he had kept the bird alive for nearly a fortnight, while in less than another couple of years additional information (op. cit., 1837, p. 24) came from T. K. Short to the effect that he had seen two living, and that all Yarrell had said was substantially correct, except underrating its progressive powers. Not long afterwards Lord Derby received and in March 1838 transmitted to the same society the trunk and viscera of an Apteryx, which, being entrusted to Sir R. Owen, furnished that eminent anatomist, in conjunction with other specimens of the same kind received from Drs Lyon and George Bennett, with the materials of the masterly monograph laid before the society in instalments, and ultimately printed in its Transactions (ii. 257; iii. 277). From this time the whole structure of the kiwi has certainly been far better known than that of nearly any other bird, and by degrees other examples found their way to England, some of which were distributed to the various museums of the Continent and of America.[3]


In 1847 much interest was excited by the reported discovery of another species of the genus (Proceedings, 1847, p. 51), and though the story was not confirmed, a second species was really soon after made known by John Gould (tom. cit., p. 93; Transactions, vol. iii. p. 379, pl. 57) under the name of Apteryx oweni—a just tribute to the great master who had so minutely explained the anatomy of the group. Three years later A. D. Bartlett drew attention to the manifest difference existing among certain examples, all of which had hitherto been regarded as specimens of A. australis, and the examination of a large series led him to conclude that under that name two distinct species were confounded. To the second of these, the third of the genus (according to his views), he gave the name of A. mantelli (Proceedings, 1850, p. 274), and it soon turned out that to this new form the majority of the specimens already obtained belonged. In 1851 the first kiwi known to have reached England alive was presented to the Zoological Society by Eyre, then lieutenant-governor of New Zealand. This was found to belong to the newly described A. mantelli, and some careful observations on its habits in captivity were published by John Wolley and another (Zoologist, pp. 3409, 3605).[4] Subsequently the society has received several other live examples of this form, besides one of the real A. australis (Proceedings, 1872, p. 861), some of A. oweni, and one of a supposed fourth species, A. haasti, characterized in 1871 by Potts (Ibis, 1872, p. 35; Trans. N. Zeal. Institute, iv. 204; v. 195).[5]

The kiwis form a group of the subclass Ratitae to which the rank of an order may fitly be assigned, as they differ in many important particulars from any of the other existing forms of Ratite birds. The most obvious feature the Apteryges afford is the presence of a back toe, while the extremely aborted condition of the wings, the position of the nostrils—almost at the tip of the maxilla—and the absence of an after-shaft in the feathers, are characters nearly as manifest, and others not less determinative, though more recondite, will be found on examination. The kiwis are peculiar to New Zealand, and it is believed that A. mantelli is the representative in the North Island of the southern A. australis, both being of a dark reddish-brown, longitudinally striped with light yellowish-brown, while A. oweni, of a light greyish-brown transversely barred with black, is said to occur in both islands. About the size of a large domestic fowl, they are birds of nocturnal habit, sleeping, or at least inactive, by day, feeding mostly on earth-worms, but occasionally swallowing berries, though in captivity they will eat flesh suitably minced. Sir Walter Buller writes (B. of New Zealand, p. 362):—

“The kiwi is in some measure compensated for the absence of wings by its swiftness of foot. When running it makes wide strides and carries the body in an oblique position, with the neck stretched to its full extent and inclined forwards. In the twilight it moves about cautiously and as noiselessly as a rat, to which, indeed, at this time it bears some outward resemblance. In a quiescent posture, the body generally assumes a perfectly rotund appearance; and it sometimes, but only rarely, supports itself by resting the point of its bill on the ground. It often yawns when disturbed in the daytime, gaping its mandibles in a very grotesque manner. When provoked it erects the body, and, raising the foot to the breast, strikes downwards with considerable force and rapidity, thus using its sharp and powerful claws as weapons of defence. . . . While hunting for its food the bird makes a continual sniffing sound through the nostrils, which are placed at the extremity of the upper mandible. Whether it is guided as much by touch as by smell I cannot safely say; but it appears to me that both senses are used in the action. That the sense of touch is highly developed seems quite certain, because the bird, although it may not be audibly sniffing, will always first touch an object with the point of its bill, whether in the act of feeding or of surveying the ground; and when shut up in a cage or confined in a room it may be heard, all through the night, tapping softly at the walls. . . . It is interesting to watch the bird, in a state of freedom, foraging for worms, which constitute its principal food: it moves about with a slow action of the body; and the long, flexible bill is driven into the soft ground, generally home to the very root, and is either immediately withdrawn with a worm held at the extreme tip of the mandibles, or it is gently moved to and fro, by an action of the head and neck, the body of the bird being perfectly steady. It is amusing to observe the extreme care and deliberation with which the bird draws the worm from its hiding-place, coaxing it out as it were by degrees, instead of pulling roughly or breaking it. On getting the worm fairly out of the ground, it throws up its head with a jerk, and swallows it whole.”

The foregoing extract refers to A. mantelli, but there is little doubt of the remarks being equally applicable to A. australis, and probably also to A. oweni, though the different proportion of the bill in the last points to some diversity in the mode of feeding.  (A. N.) 

  1. Cuvier in the second edition of his Règne Animal only referred to it in a footnote (i. 498).
  2. Cruise in 1822 (Journ. Residence in New Zealand, p. 313) had spoken of an “emeu” found in that island, which must of course have been an Apteryx.
  3. In 1842, according to Broderip (Penny Cyclopaedia, xxiii. 146), two had been presented to the Zoological Society by the New Zealand Company, and two more obtained by Lord Derby, one of which he had given to Gould. In 1844 the British Museum possessed three, and the sale catalogue of the Rivoli Collection, which passed in 1846 to the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia, includes a single specimen—probably the first taken to America.
  4. This bird in 1859 laid an egg, and afterwards continued to lay one or two more every year. In 1865 a male of the same species was introduced, but though a strong disposition to breed was shown on the part of both, and the eggs, after the custom of the Ratitae, were incubated by him, no progeny was hatched (Proceedings, 1868, p. 329).
  5. A fine series of figures of all these supposed species is given by Rowley (Orn. Miscellany, vol. i. pls. 1–6). Some others, as A. maxima, A. mollis, and A. fusca have also been indicated, but proof of their validity has yet to be adduced.