I spent the morning looking for, and finding, kiwi chicks. I was tagging along with Pete Graham of DoC, with his aerial for hearing their transmitters and his specially trained kiwi-finding dog, Manu. We were in some private bush that one of my farmer-neighbours has fenced off that is apparently chock full of kiwi. We found five, including the three chicks we were looking for.
The youngest, about 3 weeks old was still in the nest, hiding under his papa, with another unhatched egg that Pete reckons might be a dud. Peering into their hole under a tree with a torch I could see a lot of shaggy feathers, a big beak and a tiny little beak. Pete decided not to disturb them in case the egg gets damaged; he will go back another time and collect feathers off the chick so it can be DNA tested to tell its sex. This dad has stuck around his baby an unusually long time- usually chicks are left to fend for themselves within ten days.
We found another chick, about six months old, sleeping so that its beak was quite visible from one side of its hidey hole and its big feathery bottom was sticking right out the other. Pete grabbed it by the feet and taped its legs together so that he could weigh it and measure its beak. After he was finished with his measurements I was thrilled to be allowed to hold Mwedzi (they all have names as well as numbers, transmitters and microchips) who was quite calm and docile throughout our whole encounter. Pete visits his chicks every few weeks until they are big enough to fight off a stoat, so they are used to being handled by people.
Another chick the same age was better hidden- right in the middle of a big pile of fallen trees and quite a ways from where Pete had last found it. Hiohio was much more fiesty than Wgewge and complained and wriggled and clapped his bill as we checked his measurements. He was also quite a bit bigger- almost 1000gms and big enough to be considered 'a breeding success' and graduate to a juvenile transmitter.
The morning's work completed, we were walking back through the bush when Manu started following a kiwi trail and wouldn't come when called- her way of telling Pete she thinks he should come to her. She wears a little neon orange coat and a blue muzzle with a bell so its pretty easy to know where she is. When she was a puppy, Pete tried to train her to find predators but she kept finding kiwi. So they both retrained as kiwi finders and they are a very tight team.
Anyway, Manu led us to a kiwi that Pete didn't recognise at first. The microchip gave us her number and we identified her as Paora, a chick that Pete had originally tracked in the bush capping the hill across the road from my place. She had travelled a few kms across bush and open pasture since then. She is about 18 months old, and considerably larger and longer billed than the chicks I had held already, though only two thirds of her adult size. She was pretty content to be held while measured and dressed in a new, better fitting transmitter band.
I never imagined that I would hold a kiwi on my lap, look into its bright little eyes, feel the soft/coarse texture of its feathers and see the ticks on its chin. I feel like I have had a rare and sacred experience to hold three in one day. Pete says that once someone has held a kiwi they are a good ally for them. For me, a kiwi fan in the abstract while dwelling in the city, today's experience has inspired a fiercely protective feeling towards these reclusive, yet surprisingly cuddly, birds.