Kiwi feathers are very different to those of most birds.
It comes down to the feather’s structure. In most birds, feathers are connected by hooks or barbs that lock together and make it possible for birds to swim or fly without losing too much energy, even over very long distances.
Because kiwi do not fly, their feathers have evolved into a unique texture to suit a ground-based lifestyle. They are warm, shaggy, much fluffier, and hang loose like hair.
The patterns on kiwi feathers camouflage the bird, letting them disappear in the dark or among tussock and bracken. These patterns evolved to keep kiwi safe from aerial predators that hunted using sight and sound, such as the now extinct goshawk.
Different kiwi taxa evolved different feather patterns to suit their particular niche and the subtle colours and markings can be used to distinguish the different species and varieties. For example, brown kiwi have – not surprisingly – brown feathers, while the little spotted and great spotted kiwi have beautiful speckly patterns.
Learn more about kiwi
How you can help
Many hands make light work. Keen to join the mission to save the kiwi? Here are some ways you can help.