It’s a fruit! It’s a nickname! It’s a—flightless bird? The word “kiwi” has come to identify several people, places, and things, but one is undeniably cuter than the rest. Kiwi birds are native to New Zealand. They belong to the genus Apteryx and family Apterygidae. They’re also classified as ratites, flightless birds with a ratite breastbone (aka a smooth sternum). Other ratites include the ostrich, rhea, emu, and cassowary birds.
Kiwis are small—most are usually around the same size as a chicken. The largest kiwi species will grow to heights of 25 inches, and the smallest are 14 inches tall. They’re pear-shaped and furry, with long beaks. The birds have muscular legs that allow them to run very fast. Those legs are also used for kicking; they can be used for fighting if the kiwi they’re attached to encounters an unwelcome predator or annoying neighbor. Their wings are only an inch or so long, and they cannot be used for flying.
Kiwis are nocturnal, though they do sometimes come out during the day. They don’t build nests; instead, they burrow into the ground for protection. They live in forests and grasslands, where they are protected on the ground by scrub and trees. At dusk, they begin their nightly foraging and use their bills, which have nostrils on the ends, to find worms, bugs, and berries to eat.
While kiwis can be mistaken for mammals—their furry appearance and flightless nature make them seem more like rodents or small mammals—they are birds and lay large eggs, usually one at a time and up to 6 per year. Kiwis can live up to 50 years in the wild, and they’re only found in New Zealand, though they can be found elsewhere in zoos and sanctuaries.
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Have you ever seen a kiwi before? What’s your favorite flightless bird?