Better Than Coffee: The Maori Legend of the Kiwi

[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.”

kiwilsom copy

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.”

92972975_fe14d4bc0f copy

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.”

14 Responses to “Better Than Coffee: The Maori Legend of the Kiwi”

  1. awessendorf Says:

    Beautiful legend. Made me tear up a bit. And forced a good think on the subject of choices and sacrifices.

  2. Andy Says:

    Kiwi fact! They have sensitive whiskers around their beak!

    also… at a whooping 20% of their bodyweight my guess is that the kiwi egg is the largest egg for the layer’s size ever to be plopped out

  3. TempestedBird Says:

    What a gorgeous and sweet legend. Thanks, Mer!

  4. seedymckenzie Says:

    I’m a long time fan of Coilhouse from Aotearoa – may I share a link to an hilarious clip of another gorgeous Antipodean bird – the Kakapo

    All my love and lust …

    Hope you’re having a ball over our way Mer – kudos to the Tui beer in the birthday clip! The beer of the cowardly bird he he he. Get yourself a Speight’s, mate.

  5. Xeno Says:

    The Terrible Truth about the Kiwi and the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary:

  6. Nightwyrm Says:

    I love how much pleasure and enjoyment you’re getting out of our country. So many of us New Zealanders have grown accustomed (and probably a bit jaded) to our surroundings, so I actually feel pride and joy in listening to you falling in love with our country. :-)

  7. Mer Says:

    Wooo! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I’m reading/replying to you guys from the back of a camper van.

    Andy, we got a good view of his little catlike whiskers trembling as he rooted for grubs! Squee! I guess their eyesight is so poor, they can’t even see four inches in front of their faces? They depend on those whiskers to sense what’s around them. I noticed that the kiwi we watched was sort of sweeping his beak in front of himself like a blind man with a cane. When he was about two feet away, he suddenly realized there were a ton of rapt, breathless bipedal creatures gawking at him, visibly went “OH SHIT” and tried to run off as fast as he could, only he kept stumbling all over his own enormous feet. CUTEST THING EVER.

    And here’s an astounding xray of some poor, preggers lady kiwi:

    Cheers, Seedy, and thank you! Definitely having a blast in your country. I was hoping someone would post the kakapo lurve clip! My boyfriend and I became so obsessed with it, he actually bought me a plush kakapo at the gift shop last night and surprised me with it by making it hump the back of my head. Hee heeee! Cowardly though tuis might be, I love them dearly. They sound like R2D2. And that beer is delicious!

    Woops, gotta run! A couple more awesome kiwi snippets coming soon!

  8. Mer Says:

    Xeno, that’s hilarious.

    Some of our pal Siege’s photos of his time at/around Karori Sanctuary:

  9. Mer Says:

    Wow, guys. Technology is amazing. Thanks to this weird Vodafone thingummer, I’m writing you from a campsite sitting on the edge of a seaside cliff that looks like something straight out of The Piano.

    One more tidbit and then I’m off into the wilds for a while.

    While trawling the youtoobz for kiwi clips, I discovered that some friends of Bun’s and I from Weta were responsible for this awesome act:


  10. bairdduvessa Says:

    that is awesome

  11. Jessica Says:

    Thanks for that wonderful post Mer! I really wish I could have seen the scene that you described. I’ve never encountered a kiwi in the flesh and they are such weirdly lovable little critters!!! They have one of the most peculiar centers of gravity that I’ve ever come across…when making one, I almost couldn’t believe that such a creature could even stand, let alone (sorta, kinda) run! :)

  12. erica Says:

    oh i was so tickled to read this post because i study kiwis! specifically their development and locomotion so i’m looking at the way they walk and run (yes they can outrun people in the bush!). they really are fascinating little creatures. check out kiwi encounter ( if you make it to rotorua :)

    andy already brought up my fave kiwi fact that they have whiskers! part of my research is looking at that bill sweeping action you described because yes, they do have bad eyesight.

    so cool that you are enjoying nz! (and personally monteith’s radler bier is my fave)

  13. sighs Says:

    ah cool – going to that very place next week – was actually born in Karori – the sanctuary is well worth visiting

    The below youtube link might be one of NZ’s fave Kiwis – for years, back in the days when the country only had two tv channels, this was the very cute closing sequence for channel two. Most older kiwis will recall it (perhaps through a midnight haze of alcohol or other stuff! :P).

  14. Mary Says:

    I’m a long-time Coilhouse blog reader and live in NZ. I do volunteer work at the Auckland version of Karori which is Ark in the Park in the Waitakere Ranges. There is no fence around the Ark so all pest control is achieved through baiting and trapping done by volunteers. If you are ever visiting Auckland and would like to got to the Ark I can take you :) I’m on the Hihi feed roster and go out regularly to fill and replace the nectar feeders for the Hihi (stitchbird). There are lots of awesome birds out there and recently some kokako have been introduced. I was lucky enough to go to one of the unadvertised releases and see the birds up close. SO BEAUTIFUL! It’s breeding season right now so nests everywhere and lots of noise and activity :D