Southern brown kiwi

Apteryx australis Shaw, 1813

Order: Casuariiformes

Family: Apterygidae

New Zealand status: Endemic

Conservation status: Nationally Endangered

Other names: tokoeka

Geographical variation: Two subspecies are formally recognised: Fiordland tokoeka A. a. australis (Threatened/Nationally Vulnerable), and Stewart Island tokoeka A. a. lawryi (Threatened/Nationally Vulnerable). A third geographical form, Haast tokoeka A. a. ‘Haast’ (Threatened/Nationally Critical), from the Haast Range and Arawhata Valley, is recognised as being distinct for management purposes, based on morphological and genetic differentiation from Fiordland tokoeka.

Southern brown kiwi. Adult Stewart Island kiwi on bush track in daylight. Stewart Island, March 2015. Image © Glenda Rees by Glenda Rees https://www.flickr.com/photos/nzsamphotofanatic/

Southern brown kiwi. Adult Stewart Island kiwi on bush track in daylight. Stewart Island, March 2015. Image © Glenda Rees by Glenda Rees https://www.flickr.com/photos/nzsamphotofanatic/

The Stewart Island tokoeka is the largest of the kiwi. Fiordland tokoeka are also very large, but Haast birds are smaller. Widespread in forest, scrub, tussock grasslands and subalpine zones of the south-western South Island and on Stewart Island. Flightless, with tiny vestigial wings and no tail. Generally nocturnal, therefore more often heard than seen, except on Stewart Island where birds often forage during the day. Male gives a repeated high-pitched ascending whistle, female gives a deeper throaty cry. A range of colours from rufous brown in Haast, to brown and dark brown elsewhere, streaked lengthways with reddish brown and black. Feather tips feel soft. Long pale bill, short legs and toes.

Identification                                                                

Large brown kiwi. Rufous to dark brown soft feathers streaked with brown and black; long pale bill, short pale legs and toes.

Voice:  Male gives a high-pitched ascending whistle repeated 15-25 times, female gives a slower and lower pitched hoarse guttural call repeated 10-20 times.

Similar species: rowi are smaller and greyer. The calls of weka are similar to the call of the male tokoeka, but weka have two-syllable calls, and usually have fewer repetitions.

Distribution and habitat

Sparse to locally common in native forests, scrub, tussock grassland and subalpine zones in parts of the Haast Range and Arawhata Valley; Fiordland, from Milford Sound to Preservation Inlet and east to Lake Te Anau, including many of the larger islands such as Secretary and Resolution Islands; Stewart Island and Ulva Island. Fiordland tokoeka were introduced to Kapiti Island in 1908, where they have hybridised with North Island brown kiwi. Recently, Haast tokoeka have been introduced to Coal and Rarotoka Islands, and to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Dunedin, and small islands in Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri are used as crèche sites for this taxon. Before human settlement of New Zealand tokoeka were widespread throughout the southern and eastern part of the South Island as far north as North Canterbury. 

Population

About 30,000 birds in 2012; Haast tokoeka, c. 350 birds; Fiordland tokoeka, c. 15,000 birds; Stewart Island tokoeka, c. 15,000 birds.

Threats and conservation

Tokoeka disappeared from the eastern part of their range first, and within the last 50 years they have disappeared from northern and eastern fringes of Fiordland. Habitat loss, and predation by dogs and, more recently, by stoats, ferrets and cats have contributed to their decline. At Haast, the population was declining because of recruitment failure due to predation of chicks and juveniles by stoats, and some adults being killed by dogs. Since 2000, an extensive trapping programme and removal of eggs or young chicks from the wild and the rearing of chicks and juveniles in captivity and on predator-free islands until large enough (1.2 kg) to cope with the presence of stoats, has allowed the population to increase from c.300 birds to about 350 birds by 2012. New populations of Haast tokoeka have been established on Coal and Rarotoka Islands and at Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Dunedin. Landscape-scale stoat trapping in parts of Fiordland appear to be halting or reversing the overall population decline.

Breeding

Eggs are laid from June to December. The nest is in a burrow, rock crevice, hollow base of a tree, or in a hollow log. Clutch size is 1 very large, pale green egg. Incubation is shared by male and female, with the male doing most incubation by day, and duties are shared through the night.

Behaviour and ecology

Tokoeka are flightless and generally nocturnal. On Stewart Island, and occasionally in parts of Fiordland, some birds forage during daytime. During the day, they rest in a burrow, rock crevice, hollow tree or log, or under thick vegetation, and then emerge shortly after nightfall. They feed by walking slowly along tapping the ground and when prey is detected they probe their bill into the leaf litter or a rotten log; occasionally plunge their bill deep into the ground. Call occasionally each night to advertise territory and to maintain contact with partners; pairs often duet, with the partner responding a few seconds after the first call has been completed.  They are territorial, and fight conspecifics with their sharp claws.

Food

Tokoeka eat mostly small invertebrates, especially earthworms and larvae of beetles, cicadas and moths; they also eat centipedes, spiders, crickets and weta. Some fallen fruit and leaves are eaten.

Weblink

http://www.kiwisforkiwi.org

References

Colbourne, R.M. 2002. Incubation behaviour and egg physiology of kiwi (Apteryx spp.) in natural habitats. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 26: 129-138.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 2005. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Penguin, Auckland.

Robertson, H.A; Baird, K.; Dowding, J.E.; Elliott, G.P.; Hitchmough, R.A.; Miskelly, C.M.; McArthur, N.; O’Donnell, C.F.J.; Sagar, P.M.; Scofield, R.P.; Taylor, G.A. 2017. Conservation status of New Zealand birds, 2016. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 19. Wellington, Department of Conservation. 27p.

Robertson, H.A.; de Monchy, P.J.M. 2012. Varied success from the landscape-scale management of kiwi Apteryx spp. in five sanctuaries in New Zealand. Bird Conservation International.22: 429-444.

Recommended citation

Robertson, H.A. 2013 [updated 2017]. Southern brown kiwi. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Southern brown kiwi

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Maximum dispersal
>5 km

South Island brown kiwi

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
burrow, rock crevice
Nest description
Burrow, rock crevice, base of hollow tree or hollow log.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
2
Clutch size (mean)
1
Mean egg dimensions (length)
131.00 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
81.00 mm
Egg colour
Pale green
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Not applicable
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
70-80 days
Incubation length (min)
70days
Incubation length (max)
80days
Nestling type
semi-precocial
Nestling period (mean)
5-7 days to first emergence
Age at fledging (mean)
3-7 weeks
Age at independence (mean)
3-7 weeks but can remain with parents for several years
Age at first breeding (typical)
4 years
Maximum longevity
12 years (banded) mean life expectancy calculated at 26 years
Maximum dispersal
<5 km

Stewart Island brown kiwi

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
burrow
Nest description
Burrow, base of hollow tree or hollow log.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Nest height (max)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
2
Clutch size (mean)
1
Clutch size (min)
1
Clutch size (max)
1
Mean egg dimensions (length)
133.00 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
85.00 mm
Egg colour
Pale green
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (min)
70days
Incubation length (max)
80days
Nestling type
semi-precocial
Nestling period (mean)
5-7 days until first emergence, but can remain with parents for up to 7 years
Age at fledging (mean)
3-7 weeks
Age at independence (mean)
3-7 weeks, but can remain with parents for several years
Age at first breeding (typical)
4 years
Maximum longevity
23 years ( banded)
Maximum dispersal
< 2 km

Haast tokoeka

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
burrow
Nest description
Burrow, base of hollow tree or hollow log.
Nest height (mean)
0.00 m
Nest height (min)
0.00 m
Nest height (max)
0.00 m
Maximum number of successful broods
2
Clutch size (mean)
1
Clutch size (min)
1
Clutch size (max)
1
Egg colour
Pale green
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (min)
70days
Incubation length (max)
80days
Nestling type
semi-precocial
Nestling period (mean)
5-7 days till first emergence, returns daily for 2-6 weeks
Age at fledging (mean)
3-7 weeks
Age at fledging (min)
21days
Age at fledging (max)
49days
Age at independence (mean)
3-7 weeks
Age at independence (min)
21 days
Age at independence (max)
49 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
4 years
Maximum longevity
24 years recorded, mean life expectancy calculated to be 45 years
Maximum dispersal
< 5 km