This photo is the fourth in a series of six documenting my encounter with tokoeka (a wild kiwi).
I followed the rusting creature, able to track its movement by watching the disturbances in the grass. At one point it passed briefly into an opening and I caught a glimpse of the back side of a brown, downy feathered bird. Its large size surprised me but I had little doubt that this was what we were after - a sighting of a wild kiwi.
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Scientific name: Apteryx australis lawryi
Māori name: Tokoeka
English name: Southern Brown Kiwi
The kiwi, New Zealand's only living ratite, is the national symbol for New Zealand's biological and cultural uniqueness. The genus name Apteryx is derived from Ancient Greek "without wing": a-, "without" or "not"; pterux, "wing". (Gotch, 1995). The kiwis are indeed without wings; even if wing structures were to re-evolve, their lack of a keel bone and their genetic predisposition for feathers without barbuloles would still leave them flightless (see Ian Petersen's posting). Genetic studies (conducted right here at Victoria University of Wellington) have revealed that the Apteryx genus is more closely related to the ostrich and emu lineages than to the Moa (the now extinct ratite that, until recently, also inhabited New Zealand). The rate of evolutionary divergence amongst ratite lineages indicates that the Kiwi lineage dispersed to New Zealand sometime after the landmass separated from the Gondwanaland super-continent 80 million years ago.
Gotch, A. F. (1995) . "Ratites". Latin Names Explained. A Guide to the Scientific Classifications of Reptiles, Birds & Mammals. New York, NY: Facts on File. p. 183. ISBN 0 8160 3377 3.
Haddrath O, Baker AJ. Complete mitochondrial DNA genome sequences of extinct birds: ratite phylogenetics and the vicariance biogeography hypothesis. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 2001;268:939-945.