Story: Kiwi

Page 2. Kiwi species

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It was once thought that New Zealand had three species of kiwi (Apteryx genus). Now it is thought that there are five.

North Island brown kiwi

The North Island brown kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) has reddish-brown plumage and a quick temper. It was once widespread in lowland bush throughout the North Island. By 2002 there were an estimated 25,000 left – about 8,000 each in Northland, the east coast from Hawke’s Bay to Bay of Plenty, and the west coast including King Country, Taranaki and Whanganui. There were also about 1,000 birds in the Coromandel. In Northland, brown kiwi have colonised pine forests.


Once thought to be a variety of brown kiwi, tokoeka (Apteryx australis) are now considered a separate species. They are larger, with softer plumage and more communal habits than the North Island brown kiwi. Some 20,000 live on Rakiura Stewart Island and about 13,000 in Fiordland. Habitats range from high, snowy mountains to sandy coasts. One form, the Haast tokoeka, is a rare, shy bird found inland from Haast in South Westland,. In 2020 its population was estimated at 400.


The rowi (Apteryx rowi) is the rarest species. In 2015 there were only 450, in the Ōkārito region of Westland. Unlike other brown kiwi, they have greyish colouring and white patches on the face.

Great spotted kiwi

The great spotted kiwi (Apteryx haastii) lives in tough subalpine conditions. It is found in north-west Nelson, the Paparoa Ranges and the Southern Alps between Arthur’s Pass and Lake Sumner. In 2002 it was estimated that 17,000 remained. As its name suggests, the great spotted (roroa or roa in Māori) is the largest kiwi (45 centimetres high). Its grey feathers are mottled with white bands.

Little spotted kiwi

At 25 centimetres tall the little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii) or kiwi pukupuku is the smallest kiwi. It was once widespread throughout New Zealand, but suffered severely from predators, despite its aggressive personality. The largest population of about 1,200 survives on Kāpiti Island, near Wellington. Since the 1980s there have been successful transfers to other offshore islands, and to Wellington’s Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (Zealandia).

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Kiwi - Kiwi species', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 15 May 2015