The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Apteryx

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APTERYX, a strange flightless bird of New Zealand, representing the Apteryges, a group of ratite birds nearly related to the extinct dinornis. Four or five species are known in the various islands of the New Zealand group, besides two fossil species. These curious birds, called ‘kiwis’ by the natives, are about the size of domestic fowl and have very stout legs, wings reduced to a mere useless stump, long snipe-like beaks and no visible tail. The plumage is colored in streaked browns and grays, and the feathers are incomplete, the disunited filaments giving them the appearance and feeling of coarse hairs. Kiwis inhabit the forested hills, going about in small flocks which during the day hide in the thickets or in cavities of the ground or rocks. They sleep during the bright part of the day rolled up into a ball, but sometimes rest for a long period in a standing position, with the point of the bill touching the ground, as though they were leaning upon it. Their feeding-time is in the dusk of early morning and at evening and their diet consists chiefly of worms, which they search for apparently mainly by the sense of smell and obtain by probing the ground with their long bills. The nostrils are at the tip of the beak, which is also flexible and extremely sensitive to the touch, so that a worm may be detected when it is touched, although the bill may need to be thrust its length into the ground. The nest is usually at the end of a round tunnel dug in soft earth by the female and consists of a little dry fern or a few leaves. The eggs, generally two in number and incubated mainly by the male, are remarkable for their size, since they are equal to a quarter of the mother's weight. They are greenish white in color with a smooth surface. As might be expected from the size of the egg, the development of the young reaches a high degree of maturity before hatching. The Maoris are very fond of the flesh of the kiwi, either roasted or boiled, and their persistent hunting had greatly decreased the number of the birds before white men reached the islands. Since that time dogs and other accompaniments of civilization have nearly exterminated these birds, which are the sole survivors of the moas. The most complete description of their habits will be found in Buller's ‘Birds of New Zealand’ (2d ed., 1888). For anatomical details and relationships consult Parker's memoirs in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for 1891 and 1892. A good summary of this information will be found in Newton's ‘Dictionary of Birds’ (1896). See Dinornis; Moa.