Fiordland Kiwi Diaries: Tokoeka’s first winter

Department of Conservation —  28/06/2021

We’re on the front lines of the Save Our Iconic Kiwi initiative. Our ranger Tim Raemaekers and his team have been studying the population of kiwi at Shy Lake to find out how to best protect them from predators like stoats.

We’re back at Shy Lake to check up on how the young tokoeka are getting on in their first winter. It’s calm, clear and very frosty.  Each basin holds a pocket of freezing air and on every surface, hair strands and prismatic crystals of ice grow out of thin air. It’s even more arresting at night, when the beam of a head torch lights the way with a thousand tiny sparkles.  The fingers may be chilly, but with the swampy ground frozen stiff I at least have dry feet, a rarity in these parts. 

Frost crystals growing on hebe.
📷: Tim Raemaekers

Once again I marvel at the ability of the animals and plants to tough it out for months of this, without a cosy bivvy and a hot cup of tea to retreat to. I feel for Bones’ juvenile in particular – the walls of black Fiordland rock around its home range mean it receives zero sun for weeks on end at this time of year. I expect to find it in the tall forest away from the worst of the cold, but to my surprise we find it in a small patch of scrub in a big frosty clearing. Can’t be easy probing for worms when the ground is frozen. This young kiwi is looking healthy with a full coat of adult-style feathers and distinctive white patches by the ears. It’s growing more slowly than Commando’s young one across the valley, but then it’s probably putting plenty of energy into just staying warm.

Ranger Jenny health checking an 8-month old juvenile tokoeka.
📷: Tim Raemaekers

Over the way, we have a sad discovery when we find Filibuster’s little second clutch chick dead.  No sign of predation, and that’s confirmed by the post mortem to reveal much when we get back to civilisation. It’s too decomposed for an accurate cause of death and we’ll have to chalk this one up to “unknown cause of death”. I’m glad it’s not a stoat but it’s still sad and not much consolation for the poor wee chick.

At least there’s more positive news to finish, as Commando’s juvenile is still going strong at 1.3 kg. It’s a relief to feel confident that this bird has a future and to stop worrying about it! As it gets bigger and its growth starts to slow, we’ll be checking it less regularly. If we don’t have to worry about it outgrowing the transmitter harness, or being killed by a stoat, then we have no reason to bother it and can leave it to fend for itself, just another native bird living its life in the wilds.

Finally, I wanted to share this wee video montage taken by Barry Slaven, who helped on a Shy Lake trip last summer. It beautifully captures this special corner of our wilderness and shows what we’re working to protect.

This is the twenty-ninth in a series of posts about Tim’s work, follow the Conservation Blog to keep up to date on his progress.

5 responses to Fiordland Kiwi Diaries: Tokoeka’s first winter

    Greg jarvis 29/06/2021 at 2:41 pm

    How does the kiwi survive over winter? Does their petabolism change over winter a bit like deer so that the demand for food isn’t as great compared with the rest of the year.?


    Such commitment!


    It is very interesting … Great Job!

    Kim Brandon 28/06/2021 at 7:32 pm

    Awesome written kiwi diary, thanks for your hard work 🙂