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Making Our Kiwi Count

June 26 2019

Over the coming months, a PhD study will give us a deeper understanding of the iconic kiwi birds that make their home at The Landing.

Many kiwi roam the 1000 acre property at The Landing – based on the annual Kiwi Call Count survey, it would appear that the highest concentrations of New Zealand’s national icon are found right here in Northland.

There are so many of them here that an encounter with one during a stay is just about guaranteed – you might spot them scurrying out of a patch of long grass up near a Norfolk pine tree, roaming through the raupo (bulrushes) in the wetlands at twilight looking for small vertebrates to eat, or digging for grubs in our plentiful native bush.

Some of the kiwi are so predictable in their routines that The Landing staff have come to recognise and name them. Dane Hawker says there’s one that is always the first to break cover in the evenings, who the team like to refer to as Kevin.

“We have the Northland Brown Kiwi here, which is probably the biggest of the five or six kiwi species in New Zealand, he says. “In the annual call count survey, we had 120 calls in two hours last year, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we get in the next one soon.”

A normal concentration of kiwi might be one breeding pair per three hectares of land in the wild, but at The Landing, there are often multiple pairs within 50m of each other.

Despite the known high concentrations of the birds, as the kiwi have never been individually tagged and tracked, there are no clear numbers as to exactly how many there may be on the property.

That might change, now that some PhD students are working with The Landing to tag some of the property’s resident kiwi for an investigation into the purity of the breeding stock in the region.

Some concerns have been raised by local hapu (Māori tribes) and the Department of Conservation that Northland brown kiwi populations on islands and in isolated pockets throughout the region may have become inbred.

Genetic studies can help clarify the status of kiwi in the region, and determine whether deliberately cross-seeding populations will help improve their health.

At the same time, the study may give us a clearer idea of how many kiwi are present within our own local population, and how they are inter-breeding.

We look forward to the long-term results of the study.