The Great spotted kiwi is a flightless bird native to New Zealand. It is the largest of the kiwis. The eyes of this bird are small and do not see well, as it relies mostly on its sense of smell. The legs are short, with three toes per foot. It has a plumage composed of soft, hair-like feathers, which have no aftershafts. The plumage can range from charcoal grey to light brown. The Great spotted kiwi has large whiskers around the gape, and it has no tail, only a small pygostyle. The common name of this bird comes from black spots on its feathers.
Great spotted kiwi are native to the South Island of New Zealand. They are present from northwestern Nelson to the Buller River, the northwest coast (Hurunui River to Arthur's Pass), and the Paparoa Range, as well as within the Lake Rotoiti Mainland Island. These birds live in tussock grasslands, scrubland, pasture, and forests.
Great spotted kiwi are generally solitary and can be seen in pairs only during the breeding season. These are highly aggressive birds; pairs defend their large territories against other kiwi and will call, chase, or fight intruders out. Great spotted kiwi are nocturnal and sleep during the day in burrows that they construct. Up to fifty burrows can exist in one bird's territory and they will often move around, staying in a different burrow every day. At night, they come out to feed. To find prey, the birds use their scenting skills or feel vibrations caused by the movement of their prey. To do the latter, a kiwi would stick its beak into the ground, and then use its beak to dig into the ground. Great spotted kiwi communicate with each other using growls, hisses, and bill snapping. Males have a call that resembles a warbling whistle, while females' call is harsh raspy, and also warbling.
Great spotted kiwi are omnivores. They eat earthworms, grubs, beetles, cicada, crickets, flies, weta, spiders, caterpillars, slugs and snails. These birds also consume fallen fruits, berries, and seeds.
Great spotted kiwi are monogamous and form pairs that sometimes last up twenty years. The breeding season begins in June and ends in March, as this is when food is plentiful. Males chase females around until the females either run off or mate. Prior to egg-laying, there is a gestation period that lasts around 1 month. Because of the large size of the egg, gestation is uncomfortable for the female, and they do not move much. A single egg is laid in the burrow usually between August and January. The male incubates the egg while the female guards the nest. The male leaves the nest only for a few hours to hunt, and during this time, the female takes over. It takes 75 to 85 days for the egg to hatch. The chick is precocial; it hatches with eyes open and fully-feathered. Parents don't feed and don't take care of their offspring. After 10 days, the chick starts to come out of the burrow to hunt and will stay with its parents for around 12 months. Males usually reach reproductive maturity at 18 months in captivity, while females are able to lay eggs after 3 years.
The Great spotted kiwi population started declining when European settlers first arrived in New Zealand. The main threat is from invasive predators including mustelids, brush-tailed possum, feral cats, dogs, and pigs. Humans have also endangered Great spotted kiwi; they destroyed their habitat by logging forests and building mines. Previously, humans hunted these birds for feathers and food.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Great spotted kiwi population size is around 15,000 individuals which is roughly equivalent to 14,500 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Great spotted kiwi disperse seeds throughout their habitat, thus playing a very important role in the ecosystem they live in.