Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Really Weird Birds Part 7

During our education programs about birds of prey, we tell the audience that most birds do not use their nose to find food, but their excellent eyesight and hearing.  There are some exceptions, however. 

Turkey Vultures have an excellent sense of smell, allowing them to find dead animals that may be under trees and bushes.  Another bird that uses its nose to find food is the Kiwi, native only to the forests of New Zealand.
The kiwi is the national symbol of New Zealand.
 There are in fact five species of Kiwis, which I was surprised to learn.  Two are considered vulnerable, one is endangered, and one is critically endangered all due to the substantial destruction of their habitat and invasive mammalian predators.  These predators include possums, stoats, and domestic cats and dogs, all of which were introduced by humans. 

The Kiwi gets its name from the Maori imitation of its cry.  The Kiwi is truly a unique bird and has several interesting characteristics about it.  At a glance, they have a long narrow beak, no tail, large feet, and have little wings that are hidden by their coarse, bristly, hair-like feathers. 

The Kiwi is the only bird that has nostrils at the end of its beak.  They have a very well-developed sense of smell which they use to find insects, grubs, worms, and other invertebrates underground.  They will drive their long beak into the ground to catch them.  They will also eat berries and seeds off the forest floor.  

These mostly nocturnal birds are flightless.  Their one-inch wings are useless. They also lack a keel (bone for attachment of large flight muscles) on the breastbone, and have tough, thick skin.  All are adaptations for terrestrial life.  They don’t have hollow bones either; they have marrow inside them like us.  They do have very strong, muscular legs, which make up about one third of their weight.  Despite its small (adults are about 15 inches tall) and awkward appearance, a Kiwi can outrun a human!
Kiwis typically mate for life, unless a more attractive male wanders along.  Their lifespan is unknown; however, it is guessed to be about 40 years in the wild.  The male will dig a burrow where the female will lay (usually) one egg.  The Kiwi lays the largest egg in proportion to its size of any bird in the world.  One egg can reach up to 20 percent of its mother's weight, which would be like a 150 pound woman giving birth to a 30 pound baby!  The female Kiwi must eat three times her normal amount of food during the 30 days the egg is growing.  However, two to three days before the egg is laid, there is no more room for any food in her stomach, so she is forced to fast.
  Relative size of a Kiwi egg to the female.         

The male will be the sole incubator of the egg.  Kiwi chicks hatch fully feathered with their eyes open and begin foraging for small worms and berries after their first week of life.  It may stay with Dad for up to 20 days before going on its own.

What does the future hold for the Kiwi?  Like many of New Zealand’s flightless birds, the Kiwi has suffered from habitat loss and the introduction of new predators, like cats and dogs.  A Kiwi recovery program called BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust was launched in 2002 in New Zealand.  Also, Operation Nest Egg  collects Kiwi eggs from the wild and raises the chicks until they are large enough to defend themselves against predators.  People living near Kiwi areas have learned to keep their pets leashed or indoors and to slow down their cars at Kiwi caution signs. 

Loose pets in the United States are also a detriment to wild bird populations, so please restrain them!

If you want to help endangered birds, part of the World Bird Sanctuary’s mission is to secure the future of threatened bird species in their natural environments.  You can help us fulfill our mission by simply visiting us and spreading what you’ve learned, becoming a member or friend, or adopting-a-bird, which helps us feed that bird for a year!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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