Kiwi are pretty kooky birds. About the size of a chicken (some species are smaller), with two stocky legs, no evident wings, hair-like feathers and a long beak, it’s an arresting sight to find one walking the forest floor and probing the ground for food. Kiwi live in many places in New Zealand, but in thin numbers. Stoats, an invasive weasel introduced in the 1800s, prey on kiwi chicks and other native birds, and are present almost everywhere in New Zealand.
Stewart Island is an exception; it has no stoats, and a healthy population of tens of thousands of kiwi. The difference versus the two main islands is striking. There are stoat trapping programs underway in Fiordland and elsewhere, which I hope give these remarkable birds a better chance to recover.
Stewart Island is about the only place in New Zealand you can go and have any real chance of seeing wild kiwi. When I hiked the Northwest Circuit there I saw five kiwi, which is I think pretty lucky, but I would guess anyone hiking the circuit stands an excellent chance of seeing them.
A couple things which I’m going to guess increased my odds of seeing kiwi:
1) Being outside early and late in the day. Kiwi are nocturnal, but the ones on Stewart Island don’t seem to mind coming out during the day. All the ones I saw were during the day. Still, they seem to prefer low light. Two were in broad daylight, one which bolted immediately and one which stayed put 10 seconds before ambling off. The other three were at odd hours: two shortly after 7:00 in the morning, and the last in late afternoon rain. These three hung around for several minutes, probing for food. The grain in the above photos is due to the low light conditions.
2) Covering ground at such odd hours. Kiwi are slow birds, methodically probing the ground for insects and such. The last one I saw I watched for about 15 minutes, and it didn’t move more than 80 feet. Additionally, it was well aware of me and didn’t care in the slightest (we were separated by a thicket, which may have affected things). None of the kiwi I saw in low light were bothered by me. Walking the track doesn’t seem to scare kiwi off, and should have much better odds to see them than staying put and waiting for them will.