[Good morning, dear comrades. I'm chugging redbull and running to catch a ferry in a few minutes, so please forgive the sloppiness of this edition of BTC!]
Last night, I and ten other curious folks took a guided nocturnal hike through the Karori Sanctuary. A dense and verdant square mile of forest located mere minutes from downtown Wellington, the preserve is surrounded by a predator-proof fence (specially designed to keep out invasive species like hedgehogs, possums, cats and dogs), and has become “a safe haven for some of [New Zealand's] most iconic and endangered native animals, including tuatara, little spotted kiwi, saddleback, hihi and giant weta.”
Our lovely tour guide, Tracy, told us that there are approximately 100 little spotted kiwis living in the sanctuary. They’re extremely shy and elusive critters, so there was no guarantee we’d get to see one. But we lucked out and encountered one foraging in the underbrush mere feet from the trail. He was one of most adorable, lovable creatures I have ever seen. I will cherish the memory of his fuzzy rump bounding off through the twilight for the rest of my life.
There are hundreds of different factoids I could share about his species. Perhaps when I return from my travels in a few days, I’ll add some of them in comments. Hopefully some of Coilhouse’s more knowledgable NZ and/or birding readership will chime in as well?
For now, here is the Maori legend of New Zealand’s beloved hairy little whiskered flightless bird, imparted by Ben, Hayden and Gavin, three young storytellers from Mangakahia Area School in Titoki, Northland:
The Maori Legend:
Why Kiwi Lives on the Forest Floor
One day the king of the forest, Tanemahuta, was walking through the forest. He looked at his trees and noticed that they looked sick. They were being eaten by the bugs that lived on the forest floor. Tanemahuta told his brother Tanehokahoka (King of the sky) what had happened to his children the trees.
Tanehokahoka wanted to help his brother so he called all the birds together for a meeting. Tanemahuta said to them all
“The ground bugs are eating the trees. I need one of you to give up your life in the sky and come and live on the forest floor so the trees will be saved. Who will come?
Tanemahuta and Tanehokahoka waited and listened – but everything was quiet, and not a single bird spoke. Tanehokahoka turned to Tui…
[Story continues after the jump]
“Tui, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Tui said “Oh no Tanehokahoka –it is too dark and I am afraid of the dark.”
So then Tanehokahoka turned to Pukeko. “Pukeko, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Pukeko said “Oh no the ground is too wet and I don’t like getting my feet wet.”
Tanehokahoka then turned to Pipiwharauroa and asked “Pipiwharauroa, will you come down from the forest roof?”
Pipiwharauroa said “No I am too busy building a nest for my family”
Tanehokahoka knew that if one of the birds did not come down from the forest roof, not only would all the trees die, but the birds would have nowhere to live.
Photo by Robin Bush
As a last attempt Tanehokahoka turned to Kiwi and said “Please, will you come down from the skies and save the trees?”
Kiwi looked around and saw his family. Kiwi then looked at the cold damp earth and turned to Tanehokahoka and said “yes.”
Tanehokahoka and Tanemahuta were very happy because this little bird would save the trees. Tanemahuta said “Kiwi do you realise that if you do this, you will have to grow strong legs and loose your beautiful wings and colourful feathers so you blend in with the colour of the forest floor. You will not be able to return to the forest roof and will never see the light of day again.”
Kiwi took one last long look at the sun and whispered a quiet “goodbye.”
Tanehokahoka turned to the other birds and said “Tui, because you were too scared to come down – from now on you will wear two white feathers at your throat as the mark of a coward.”
“Pukeko, because you didn’t want to get your feet wet – you will now spend the rest of your days in the swamp”
“Pipiwharauroa, because you were too busy building a nest for your family – you will never build another nest again. Instead, you will have to lay your eggs in other bird’s nests.”
“But you, Kiwi – because of your sacrifice, you will become the most well known and loved bird of them all.”