Without a doubt, New Zealand’s most famous bird, the kiwi has become ubiquitous in Kiwi culture.
There are five species of Kiwi and the Tokoeka species calls Southland home. Each species has distinct characteristics and habitats. Kiwi are small flightless birds, measuring around 45 to 55 centimeters in height. They have strong legs and no tail and their stout bodies are covered in hair-like feathers that range in colour from dark brown to grey, helping them blend into their forested habitats. Tokoeka translates as ‘weka with a walking stick’ (Ngāi Tahu) which fits with their notable feature; a long, slender bill that is used for probing the ground in search for food, such as insects, worms, and grubs, which form a significant part of their diet. They also consume fallen fruits and berries.

There are three distinct forms of Tokoeka: Haast, Fiordland and Rakiura. Southland provides an ideal habitat for Tokoeka, as they primarily inhabit native forests, including dense bush areas, scrublands, and coastal forests. Tokoeka kiwis are commonly found in Rakiura Stewart Island, which is known for its pristine wilderness and low predator numbers, making it a haven for these unique birds.

Tokoeka kiwis are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. However, the Rakiura Tokoeka are particularly unusual as they do not follow the usual nocturnal habits of other Kiwi with their daytime adventures, meaning you have a good chance of spotting a kiwi in daylight. The birds have a keen sense of smell and excellent hearing, which compensates for their poor eyesight. 

Tokoeka kiwis are monogamous, forming long-term pair bonds. They typically mate for life, and both parents share the responsibility of incubating the eggs and caring for the young. The female usually lays one or two large eggs, which are incubated for approximately 75 to 85 days. Unlike most birds, kiwi chicks hatch fully feathered and are relatively independent soon after birth, as they don't have to be fed by their parents. A yolk sac attached to their belly is enough for the first ten days of their lives; after that, they can forage their own food.

The Tokoeka kiwi is classified as "At Risk – Recovering" by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC). Their population numbers have declined due to habitat loss, predation by introduced mammals, such as stoats and cats, and accidental deaths caused by vehicles and dogs. However, active conservation efforts, including predator control programs, habitat restoration, and community involvement, have helped stabilise their numbers and support their recovery.

See kiwi in real life:

Kiwi Spotting

Spotting a kiwi in their natural environment is an essential experience when in New Zealand. Stewart Island is one of the best places to spot the Southern brown kiwi (Rakiura tokoeka) in the wild. Choose from one of the many…

Learn more about other birds in Southland: