The kiwi is the national bird of New Zealand. This unique flightless bird is distantly related to the emu, and is the only surviving link to the extinct giant Moa which used to roam the Canterbury Plains. Unfortunately vulnerability to introduced predators means that kiwi are now an endangered species.
The kiwi has unique characteristics: it has feathers that resemble fur, and its nostrils are at the end of its beak to help it find worms as it feeds at night. It has a well-developed sense of smell, unlike other birds, and the largest egg for its size of any bird. Maori call the shy and nocturnal kiwi “te manu huna a Tane” – the hidden bird of Tane.
The Kiwi House at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a sheltered area where young kiwi are raised before being released back into the wild. The New Zealand Conservation Trust at Willowbank raises kiwi chicks and hatches eggs found in the wild as part of Operation Nest Egg, a project under the direction of the Department of Conservation. Eventually they will all be returned to their natural territory.
As the only South Island site actively engaged in Operation Nest Egg, as well as hosting the most successful kiwi breeding programme in New Zealand, Willowbank provides a unique opportunity to view this intriguing bird, with between 8 and 10 young birds being housed indoors. Willowbank also keeps a number of kiwi breeding pairs living outdoors in a unique protected purpose-built environment, “under the stars”, as close to their natural surroundings as possible.