Southern brown kiwi - Apteryx australis

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Southern brown kiwi - Apteryx australis
Southern brown kiwi - Apteryx australis

The Southern brown kiwi or Tokoeka (Apteryx australis) is a species of kiwi, a flightless bird endemic to New Zealand.

In a nutshell

  • Southern brown kiwi, tokoeka, or common kiwi (Apteryx australis) is a species of flightless bird from South Island, New Zealand.  
  • It belongs to the order Apterygiformes, which includes all kiwis, and is a ratite, meaning it has no keel on its sternum.  
  • It has no preen gland, no tail, and no aftershafts or barbules on its feathers. It has large vibrissae around its gape and a long slender bill with nostrils at the tip.  
  • It has rufous plumage with some streaking and varies in size from 45 to 55 cm in length and 1.6 to 4 kg in weight. Females are larger than males.   
  • It is divided into two subspecies: the Fiordland tokoeka (A. a. australis) and the Stewart Island tokoeka (A. a. lawryi). Some conservationists also recognize the Haast tokoeka (A. a. \"Haast\") as a distinct subspecies.  
  • It inhabits temperate and sub-tropical forests, grasslands, shrublands, and sand dunes. It is nocturnal and forages for invertebrates, fallen fruits, and leaves using its keen sense of smell.
  • It is monogamous and territorial. It communicates with vocalizations, such as the male's shrill \"kee-wee\" or \"kee-kee\" and the female's hoarse \"kurr kurr\". It lays one or two eggs in a burrow and the male incubates them for about 90 days. The chicks are precocial and leave the nest after about a week.  
  • It is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN due to habitat loss, predation by introduced mammals, and diseases. Conservation efforts include predator control, habitat protection, and translocation to predator-free islands.


Tokoeka are the largest of the kiwi, with males weighing up to 3.3 kg and females up to 4.2 kg. They have soft, brown feathers streaked with black and reddish brown, long pale bills, short legs and toes, and no tail. They are nocturnal, except on Stewart Island where they sometimes forage during the day. They have a keen sense of smell and use their bills to probe the ground for invertebrates, such as worms, beetles, cicadas and moths. They also eat some fallen fruit and leaves.[1]

Tokoeka have distinctive calls that they use to communicate with their mates and to mark their territories. The male gives a high-pitched ascending whistle repeated 15-25 times, while the female gives a lower-pitched hoarse cry repeated 10-20 times.[1]

Distribution and habitat

Tokoeka are found in the south-western South Island and on Stewart Island, as well as on some offshore islands and mainland sanctuaries where they have been introduced or translocated. They inhabit a range of habitats, including native forests, scrub, tussock grasslands and subalpine zones.[1]

The Fiordland tokoeka occurs from Milford Sound to Preservation Inlet and east to Lake Te Anau, including many of the larger islands in Fiordland. The Stewart Island tokoeka is widespread on Stewart Island and Ulva Island. The Haast tokoeka is restricted to parts of the Haast Range and Arawhata Valley in South Westland.[1]

The total population of tokoeka was estimated at about 30,000 birds in 2012, with about 15,000 birds each for the Fiordland and Stewart Island subspecies, and about 350 birds for the Haast form.[1]

Conservation status

Tokoeka are classified as nationally vulnerable by the New Zealand Threat Classification System. They face threats from habitat loss and predation by introduced mammals, such as dogs, stoats, ferrets and cats. The Haast tokoeka is particularly endangered due to its small population size and low recruitment rate.[1]

Conservation efforts for tokoeka include predator control, captive rearing, translocation and public education. The Department of Conservation manages several projects to protect and enhance tokoeka populations in different areas. Some examples are:[1]

  • The Haast Tokoeka Recovery Programme, which involves intensive stoat trapping, egg or chick removal from the wild, rearing in captivity or on predator-free islands until large enough to survive stoat predation, and establishing new populations on Coal and Rarotoka Islands and at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.
  • The Fiordland Tokoeka Project, which involves landscape-scale stoat trapping in parts of Fiordland National Park and monitoring of population trends.
  • The Stewart Island Kiwi Project, which involves community-led predator control, advocacy and research on kiwi behaviour and ecology


There are two formally recognised subspecies:[1]

  • Fiordland tokoeka
  • Rakiura tokoeka

And a third geographical form which is considered distinct for management purposes:[1]

See also

External links