Top ten animals – #6, Kiwi

Depending on whether you ask a lumper or a splitter, there are somewhere between three and six species of kiwi. I’m not going to specify one. This is a picture of a Little Spotted Kiwi, Apteryx owenii, the smallest of the kiwis, taken from the website of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. In Maori it has the fabulous name kiwi-pukupuku.

In some ways the kiwi is an odd choice to get into the top ten – it’s just a drab brown bird the size of a chicken. I guess it’s mainly the fascination of a bird that is so un-birdy; penguins and anhingas have the same appeal. Not only are kiwis flightless and without obvious wings, they don’t even appear to have feathers. They also get bonus points for living in New Zealand – i.e. a very long way away from where I live, and somewhere I’d love to go some time.

A few facts about kiwis. They’re nocturnal – hence the picture above. They have their nostrils at the end of their beaks, uniquely among birds, presumably to help them find food – they have rubbish eyesight. In fact, I think it’s the only nocturnal bird that has moved from eyesight to another main sense (although the oilbird, which nests in caves, does have primitive sonar). They are in the same family – ratites – as other famous flightless birds like the ostrich, rhea, emu and cassowary. As they shrunk to their present size from their larger ancestor, the egg shrank more slowly then the overall body size, as can be seen in this uncomfortable-looking x-ray:

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