Is New Zealand’s Unofficial Symbol, the Kiwi Bird, a Native of Australia?

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By Vittorio Hernandez | December 18, 2013 10:19 AM EST

Research at Flinders University in Australia puts in question the origin of a bird, the kiwi, which has stood as neighbour New Zealand's unofficial symbol. Trevor Worthy, a palaentologist born in New Zealand, based his study on fossilised remains on NZ's south island that suggest the kiwi did not come from a larger ancestor but from a winged creature that originated in Australia but migrated to New Zealand.

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The extinct giant moa has been believed to be the ancestor of the kiwi, but the research suggests the fossilised bird and emu evolved from the common ancestor. He said the DNA suggests the kiwi is related to the emu since both shared a common ancestor that could fly.

The kiwi, a flightless bird, is used as a symbol of New Zealand soldiers, the All Blacks rugby team and scores of souvenir items ranging from decors to socks.


Mr Worthy explained that it was not uncommon for birds from Australia to move to New Zealand, pointing to the Mallard duck, branded dotterel and cattle egret as samples of species that regularly fly between the two countries.

However, he acknowledged that the study, published by the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution, was not conclusive and there is a need to find wing bones to strengthen the theory.

But Hugh Robertson, another New Zealand bird expert, said any evidence indicating that the kiwi is closely related to the emu is not conclusive that its ancestor flew in from Australia. He theorised the kiwi bird could have been in New Zealand since the land separated from Gondwanaland some 60 million years ago.

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