‘Very sweet milestone’: wild-born kiwi chicks are Wellington’s first in a century

New Zealand’s national icon is also one of its most vulnerable birds and conservationists believe it was absent from capital for generations

Two kiwi chicks have been born in the wild around Wellington for the first time in more than 100 years, one year after the national bird was reintroduced to New Zealand’s capital.

The fluffy and flightless kiwi is one of the most vulnerable birds in New Zealand and conservationists believe it has been absent from the capital for generations.

In November 2022, 11 kiwi were released into a vast sweep of hilly farmland in Makara, 25 minutes west of Wellington’s centre. Fifty-two more birds were released between February and May this year, with another 200 to follow over the next five years.

The project had proved so successful because of the community’s enthusiastic buy-in, said Paul Ward, founder of the Capital Kiwi Project, which began six years ago.

More than 100 landowners gave permission for the project to install 4,600 stoat traps across the bird’s new 24,000ha habitat – making it the largest intensive stoat trapping network of its kind in the country.

Ward said the trapping network was just as important as the support network behind the project, which includes the Makara community, the iwi (tribe) who gifted the birds, the iwi mana whenua (tribe with territorial rights over the region) which is now kaitiaki, or guardian, of the kiwi, and the landowners.

“To have kiwi out there breeding is deeply, deeply satisfying,” Ward said, adding that it was “a very sweet milestone” that proves the area is suitable habitat.

The project chose not to name the two-week old chicks, Ward said, nor would it get into the habit of providing updates on individual kiwi because it was committed to growing a large wild population.

An estimated 12 million kiwi once roamed New Zealand, but introduced predators and habitat loss have driven those numbers to worrying lows – 68,000 at the last estimate. Conservation efforts, such as the Capital Kiwi Project, are starting, slowly, to boost kiwi numbers.

Adult kiwi are vulnerable to large predators such as dogs, but can fight off smaller pests with their large fighting claws. Kiwi chicks, however, are entirely vulnerable to predators, particularly stoats.

Just a quarter of the kiwi released into the area are being monitored, meaning there was a high possibility more chicks could be discovered, Ward said. But he cautioned that it was still early days for the chicks.

“These chicks now need to fend for themselves in the wild. The coming months are vitally important as they grow and put on weight to the point that they can fend off stoats with their big claws.”

Ward hoped the project would help educate the public about the birds’ “toughness and fighting spirit”.

“But we have to admit, they are ridiculously cute.”


Eva Corlett in Wellington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A third of Wellington’s kākā parrot chicks found to have lead in their blood
Toxic metal present in both blood and eggshell samples, but the New Zealand birds appear to have formed a tolerance for it

Eva Corlett in Wellington

21, Jul, 2022 @3:42 AM

Article image
‘Puking’ pūteketeke crowned New Zealand bird of the century after John Oliver campaign
Annual competition inundated with a record number of votes after comedian took the Australasian crested grebe under his wing

Eva Corlett in Wellington

14, Nov, 2023 @11:44 PM

Article image
‘Intrinsic to our identity’: kiwi brought back to Wellington’s wilds
Introduced predators and habitat loss saw New Zealand’s national bird vanish from the capital 100 years ago. A new cohort of 11 birds is changing all that

Eva Corlett in Wellington

25, Nov, 2022 @6:00 PM

Article image
Consternation in New Zealand as native bat included in bird of the year poll
Winged mammal is the first non-bird to be included in the beloved annual poll, which has been running for 16 years

Tess McClure in Christchurch

11, Oct, 2021 @4:06 AM

Article image
Entire rare bird colony vanishes, baffling New Zealand scientists
Experts believe endangered shore plovers – known for their pluck and friendliness – might have flown away or been eaten by predators

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Queenstown

08, Jul, 2020 @11:37 PM

Article image
Voting opens in New Zealand's beloved Bird of the Year competition
What started 15 years ago as a modest promotion to draw attention to native birds, many of which are endangered, has become a phenomenon

Phil Taylor in Auckland

02, Nov, 2020 @5:21 AM

Article image
World’s only alpine parrot may have moved to the mountains to avoid people
Intelligent and mischievous, New Zealand’s kea were once present in other parts of the country, research has found, and adaptability could help them survive habitat loss

Tess McClure in Queenstown

01, Jun, 2021 @3:29 AM

Article image
Kiwis to be reintroduced to New Zealand capital for first time in a century
Ancient, flightless, nocturnal birds have been absent from Wellington for more than a century

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin

13, Nov, 2018 @2:01 AM

Article image
Save the kiwi: New Zealand rallies to protect its iconic bird
Experts are battling to save the remaining 68,000 kiwis in a country once home to millions

Eleanor Ainge Roy on Kapiti Island

01, Jun, 2018 @8:17 AM

Article image
Best bird a bat: tiny flying mammal wins New Zealand bird of the year competition
No stunt, say organisers, who wanted to raise awareness of the pekapeka-tou-roa, which faces the same threats as native birds

Eva Corlett in Wellington

31, Oct, 2021 @10:19 PM