Apteryx haastiigreat spotted kiwi(Also: roroa)

Geographic Range

Great spotted kiwis (Apteryx haastii) are native to New Zealand and limited to just three regions in the country. The three main areas are northwest Nelson, Paparoa Range, and the Arthur’s Pass-Hurunui district of the Southern Alps. In 2004 a population was established at Nelson Lake. The largest population of these kiwis is found in northwest Nelson, the second largest population is found in Paparoa Range. The smallest population is found in the Hurunui district. (Benstead, et al., 2014a; McLennan, et al., 1996)


Great spotted kiwis are most commonly found in forested areas, scrubland, beach forest, hardwood forest, and grasslands. They are found from sea level to 1,500 m in forested habitats and from 700 to 1,100 m in subalpine habitats. Rainfall can vary from 120 to 400 cm/year. Within these habitats, kiwis make dens out of a vast amount of materials. Marchant (1990) found that they nest in areas that have overhead cover, such as crevices of trees with buttressed roots, in downed logs, underneath rock formations, and hidden under dense vegetation. (Benstead, et al., 2014a; Benstead, et al., 2014b; Marchant, 1990)

  • Range elevation
    700 to 1,500 m
    2296.59 to ft

Physical Description

Great spotted kiwis are stout, long-billed birds with a total length from 45 to 55 cm. They weight 2.4 to 3.3 kg and have bill lengths from 8.3 to 13.5 cm. Females are typically larger than males. Great spotted kiwis appear spotted because they have an arrangement of grey, brown, and off-white feathers. The legs are short and muscular and they have large 4-toed feet; three toes facing forward and one in the back. Kiwis are flightless birds so their wings and tails are reduced in size. Because they do not fly, their feathers are soft, much like the hair of mammals. Kiwis are nocturnal, so their eyes are underdeveloped and their olfactory organs are larger than those of diurnal birds. On their elongated bills (males: 8.3 to 10.4 cm, females 13.3 to 13.5 cm), the nostrils are located closer to the tip of the bill. This nostril placement is unique to kiwis. The bills are white grey and take up to five years to develop to their adult size. (Fitter and Merton, 2011)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    2.4 to 3.3 kg
    5.29 to 7.27 lb
  • Range length
    44 to 55 cm
    17.32 to 21.65 in


Great spotted kiwis use a variety of visual and auditory cues in mating. Sales (2004) describes a male behavior involving “bill-to-bill grunting and chasing, leaping, and snorting.” This combination is believed to be enticing to a potential mate. Once mated, this species remains monogamous, probably because egg production is very energy consuming. Kiwis are the smallest of all flightless birds and, according to Calder (1979), the yolk sac is rich in energy. The egg has the same amount of energy as an emu yolk, from 229 to 251 grams of energy. The nest is comprised of vegetation and built in burrows, although occasionally nests are exposed. Great spotted kiwis are hard to observe when they are incubating, because males are very territorial. Oftentimes they will abandon the nest if it is disturbed. Agitated males are known to crack open the egg if humans approach, but only during early stages of incubation. In order to reduce heat loss, great spotted kiwis use the warmth of their feet to incubate the egg. ("Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) Recovery Plan", 2008; Calder, 1979; Sales, 2004)

Great spotted kiwis lay only one egg per year. This laying of a single egg typically takes place between December and July. If this nest fails, the female may lay a second egg in that time block, but this is uncommon, given how much energy is required to produce the single, large egg. Great spotted kiwis are very territorial and may use pheromones to mark their territories. Males and females rotate incubation times throughout the day and night; the male will incubate during the day and night, and the female will incubate the egg for about five hours at night so the male can hunt for food. It takes about 70 days to complete incubation before the egg can hatch. Once young great spotted kiwis are born, it takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks before fledging and 4 to 12 months to reach independence. The age of sexual maturity for female kiwis has been reported as 3.75 years. Great spotted kiwi females achieve maximum success in raising young when they are 5 to 26 years old. Males reach sexual maturity around 2.25 years. Males achieve maximum success in raising young from 7 to 28 years old. ("Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) Recovery Plan", 2008; "Translocation of Great spotted kiwi/roa (Apteryx haasti) to Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project", 2005; Cockrem, et al., 1992; McLennan and McCann, 1991; Sales, 2004; Taborsky and Taborsky, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Great spotted kiwis breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding in great spotted kiwis occurs between July and December.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 2
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    70 days
  • Average fledging age
    2-4 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    4-12 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3.75 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2.25 years

Great spotted kiwis are K-strategist breeders, meaning they invest most of their energy into just a few offspring. Male kiwis spend the majority of their time as the primary incubators of a pair's single egg. When the male is incubating, he loses feathers on his lower stomach and develops a bald patch in order to enhance heat transfer to the egg. Sales (2004) found that male and female great spotted kiwis spend 20 percent of their time together, because they spend time feeding apart. ("Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) Recovery Plan", 2008; "Translocation of Great spotted kiwi/roa (Apteryx haasti) to Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project", 2005; McLennan and McCann, 1991; Noble, 1991; Sales, 2004)


In captivity the average life span of great spotted kiwis is 12 to 18 years. The maximum lifespan can range from 28 to 33 years. In the wild, kiwis can live 20 years. McLennan (1996) reports the average yearly rate of mortality for great spotted kiwis is around 10.7%. Predators are the main limiting factor in the kiwi lifespan. Sales (2004) stated that predators are responsible for the death of 60% of young kiwis. In captivity, great spotted kiwis have a higher chance of surviving hatching. In the wild, 29% of eggs reach the full term incubation, while the percentage of this in captivity is 79%. Sales (2004) found that, in captivity, great spotted kiwis can be afflicted with a variety of diseases and health issues stemming from ingestion of foreign particles and transfer of bacterial and fungal infections among birds. Bacterial diseases include septicemia, pneumonia, bronchitis, and avian tuberculosis. Fungal diseases include cryptococcosis and aspergillosis. (McLennan, et al., 1996; Sales, 2004)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12 to 28-33 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    12-18 years


Generally solitary birds, great spotted kiwis form pairs during the mating and incubation seasons. They sometimes form temporary aggregations around fruiting trees. Great spotted kiwis are not able to fly; they walk instead and consequently have very muscular legs. They remain on the ground mainly because their source of food is found on the ground or a few centimeters off the ground. Great spotted kiwis are very vocal. It is common to only hear kiwis and not actually see them. The sexes have different vocalizations. Males make a loud, drawn out whistle that is repeated 10 to 20 times and can be heard up to 1.5 km. Females make an unpleasant hoarse, guttural sound that is repeated around 10 to 20 times. Their call is used for a contact call and a defense call, and young kiwis make calls when they are alarmed. Great spotted kiwis are more vocal in the winter and the spring, 2 to 3 hours after sunset, which is when they lay eggs. ("Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) Best Practice Manual", 2003; Noble, 1991; Sales, 2004)

  • Range territory size
    0.08 to 0.26 km^2

Home Range

McLennan (1996) found that great spotted kiwi home ranges are between 19.6 and 35.4 hectares, with an average of 29.3 hectares. The distance per hour that the kiwi travels at night ranges from 7 to 433 meters. Territories in the Northwest Nelson region have been reported to range from 0.08 to 0.26 square km. (McLennan, et al., 1996)

Communication and Perception

Great spotted kiwis are very vocal. Their name derives from the sounds they make, which sound like kee wee wee! This call is often repeated in the dusk and dawn. The long rictal hairs found at the base of the bill are used for sensing potential prey items at night. They also have a heightened sense of smell, compared to other birds. Their bills also have tactile uses in finding prey; with sensitive nerve endings towards the tip of the bill, these nocturnal birds can use vibrations and changes in pressure to detect movement or presence of potential prey. Great spotted kiwi sense of olfaction is so good that they are able to find food at a short distance combined with touching. Studies show that kiwis are similar to barn owls (Tyto alba) because of their keen sense of hearing and detection of high frequency sounds. (Fitter and Merton, 2011; Reid, et al., 1982)

Food Habits

Great spotted kiwis are omnivores that prefer seasonal fruits, but they are not always the main part of their diet. Reid et al. (1982) found that the diet of great spotted kiwis consists of 40 to 45% earthworms, 40 to 45% other invertebrates, such as lepidopterans, beetles, spiders and hemipterans (mainly cicadas), and 10 to 15% seeds and fruits. Great spotted kiwis have a probing curved bill that helps them forage for food. This bill also helps reduce the dust inhaled while searching for food. (Noble, 1991; Reid, et al., 1982)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Great spotted kiwis have declined about 90 percent in the last 100 years due to introduced mammalian predators. Humans (Homo sapiens) have introduced many mammalian predators of great spotted kiwis, such as dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), cats (Felis catus), ferrets (Mustela putorius furo), and ermine (Mustela erminea). Native common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) are also predators of kiwi eggs. Young kiwis are at more risk of mortality because they lack sufficient behavioral defenses. In most of New Zealand ermine and cats cause the population of kiwi chicks to decline by about 50 percent. At the age of 6 to 8 months, once great spotted kiwis reach 1 kg in size, ermine no longer pose much of a threat. Dogs and ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are mainly responsible for the deaths of adult kiwis in the northland. McLennan et al. (1996) found that predators killed 8% of chicks, and were also responsible for 60% of deaths in "young" kiwis, 45% of deaths in "juveniles." ("Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) Recovery Plan", 2008; McLennan, et al., 1996; Sales, 2004)

Ecosystem Roles

Great spotted kiwis play an important role in seed dispersal, being able to carry large seeds for long distances. Consequently, programs have been designed to help the native kiwis with this ecosystem role. Great spotted kiwis are also hosts to a variety of species such as feather mites (Kiwialges palametrichus, Kiwialges haastii, Kiwialges phalagotrichus, Kiwialges cryptosikyus), feather lice (Rallicola gracilentus), fleas (Ctenocephalides felis felis), trombiculid mites (Apterygon hintoni), and chewing lice (Rallicola gracilentus). Howe et al. (2012) showed that malaria (Plasmodium) is even a threat to great spotted kiwis. ("Translocation of Great spotted kiwi/roa (Apteryx haasti) to Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project", 2005; Bishop, 1984; Howe, et al., 2012; Sales, 2004)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Great spotted kiwis are well known by New Zealanders and have a positive image in the New Zealand lifestyle. To Maori (an ethnic group in New Zealand), kiwis are considered “taonga,” or a culturally treasured item. (McLennan and McCann, 2002)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Apteryx haastii on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN red list, great spotted kiwis are considered "vulnerable." CITES lists great spotted kiwis in Appendix I, which means that they are threatened with extinction. CITES prohibits international trade in kiwis. There are three populations of great spotted kiwis. In 1996, the population size was around 22,000 individuals and declined to 12,000 by 2006. McLennan and McCann (2002) found that the largest population was 11,000 in northeast Nelson in the north and 3,000 in the south. The second largest had a population of about 6,300 kiwis located in Paparoa Ranges. The smallest population was about 3,000 individuals found at Arthur's Pass. There are areas in the north where great spotted kiwis are stable. However, in most areas, the population of great spotted kiwis declines at about 2% a year (Kiwi Recovery Plan, 2008). A Predator Control Project is designed to protect great spotted kiwis from introduced predators. The Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project is a conservation program to restore a community located in the montane southern honeydew beech forests.The Kiwi Recovery Program helps raise juveniles until they reach a weight of 800 to 1200 g. Another conservation program called Bank of New Zealand Operation Nest Egg, BNZONE, focuses on kiwi eggs. They take eggs into captivity in order to protect the eggs, giving the birds a higher rate of survival. ("Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) Recovery Plan", 2008; "Translocation of Great spotted kiwi/roa (Apteryx haasti) to Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project", 2005; Deverall, 2012; McLennan and McCann, 2002; Sales, 2004)


Cari Mcgregor (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


uses sight to communicate


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Department of Conservation. Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) on Offshore New Zealand Island. None. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation. 2005. Accessed September 03, 2014 at http://doc.org.nz/Documents/science-and-technical/drds208.pdf.

Department of Conservation. Translocation of Great spotted kiwi/roa (Apteryx haasti) to Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project. None. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Conservation. 2005. Accessed September 03, 2014 at http://www.conservation.govt.nz/Documents/conservation/land-and-freshwater/land/translocation-of-great-spotted-kiwi.pdf.

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