How Many Different Types Of Kiwi Are There?

Kiwi are our national bird and yet many of us know very little about the kiwi.

So it was interesting recently when at a quiz night we were asked how many different types of kiwi are there?

I’m not sure how many people got the right answer, but the discussion was interesting and ultimately we got it wrong.

About The Kiwi

So I decided to research the kiwi.

In very basic terms the kiwi are a flightless bird and their Latin species name is Apteryx, which I do not know how to say, but it simply means wingless. They belong to an ancient group of birds that can’t fly known as the ratites.

But interestingly because they can’t fly, how they arrived in New Zealand is not completely clear.

You can read about the sounds kiwi make on this blog too and you can read a lot more on the website called Kiwis for Kiwi which is where I did most of my research. This is a national charity that supports community-led and Māori-led kiwi conservation projects.

How Many Different Types Of Kiwi Are There?

Because scientists could only work from what they could see, up to the 1980s just three species of kiwi were formally recognised until recently. These were the great spotted kiwi, the little spotted kiwi and the brown kiwi and with the brown kiwi species, three varieties were also recognised being the North Island brown, South Island brown and Stewart Island brown which makes up the five different types of kiwi.

The five formally described kiwi species are;

  • The little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii) on several offshore islands and two mainland sanctuaries
  • The great spotted kiwi/roroa (A. haastii) in the northwestern South Island and around Arthur’s Pass
  • The brown kiwi (A. mantelli) in the North Island
  • The rowi (A. rowi) at Okarito, on the West Coast of the South Island
  • The tokoeka (A. australis) in the South Island (Fiordland, the Haast Range and Rakiura which is better known as Stewart Island).

This was the answer to our quiz question.

Question: How many different types of kiwi are there? 

Answer” Five

But…

To add to the complexity, 2 of the 5 kiwi species (brown kiwi and tokoeka) have different varieties within them, making a total of 10 ‘kinds’ of kiwi. The varieties have arisen because populations of brown kiwi and tokoeka live in quite separate geographical areas, so have not interbred for a very long time, so for simplicity’s sake researchers often use the term ‘taxa’ (singular: taxon) to refer to the 10 different kinds of kiwi.

The ten “kinds” of kiwi are;

  • The little spotted kiwi with an estimated population of about 1,800 in 2015
  • The great spotted kiwi is more popular with an estimated population of about 14,800 in 2015
  • The Northland brown kiwi with an estimated population of about 8,200 in 2015
  • The Coromandel brown kiwi with an estimated population of about 1,700 in 2015
  • The Eastern brown kiwi with an estimated population of about 7,150 in 2015
  • The Western brown kiwi with an estimated population of about 7,500 in 2015
  • The rowi with an estimated population of just about 500 in 2015
  • The Haast tokoeka with an estimated population of just about 400 in 2015
  • The Fiordland tokoeka with an estimated population of about 12,500 in 2015
  • The Rakiura (Stewart Island) tokoeka with an estimated population of about 13,000 in 2015

So as you can see there are more than just the one kiwi in New Zealand.




My name is Stuart Wills and you are reading this on my blog.

This post forms part of what I call my “Kiwi Trivia” which is something that I enjoy researching and creating to entertain people. As I research things it is staggering what has really happened in New Zealand. I created a Facebook page called Kiwi Trivia too and I would encourage people to follow that page and get my updates as they happen – typically weekly if I can.