There is a joke, that I will rehash for the purpose of the point I am about to try and get across.

The joke is thus.

A judge is about to sentence a poacher, for killing and eating native wood pigeons.

Judge: "Tell me, I've always wondered, what does kereru taste like?"
Poacher: "A little like kiwi, your honour."


It has always tickled my funny bone, because I have never particularly revered the kiwi as our archetypal national symbol.

To me, the kiwi looked like two giant chicken drumsticks that would go well with some mashed potato and gravy.

Kiwi Fried Chicken.

And then something changed.

One night a few months ago, I heard a bird in the bush near our home, in Whau Valley, for the first time.

It wasn't a morepork.

"Maybe it's a kiwi," I thought.

It hung around, until one night someone else in the house said "what's that dumb bird flying around at night?"

"Maybe it's not flying," I thought.

I left my phone on the deck, in "record" mode, and captured a few seconds of it.
Every half hour or so, there would be three or four calls, and then silence.

I looked up "kiwi calls" on Google. there were a couple that sounded a little like mine.

"Wow" I thought. "Kiwi in Whau Valley."

I played it to two people who live near what they believe are kiwi in Kauri.

"That's a kiwi," said one adamantly.

So I rang the only kiwi expert I know, Pete Graham from the Northland Regional Council.

Pete listened to my dodgy recording down the phone line, and said "the cadence [the vocal tempo] is all wrong" but it was worth establishing what the bird was.

We were a little too far from the nearest known kiwi population, he said.

A kiwi would be "highly unlikely", but check it out, he said, and offered the use of a recording device that would help identify my bird.

First though, we decided I would try for a better recording.

A few days later, I headed into the bush on a pitch black, cold night, and set the recording button on my phone, and left it there for an hour.

Something that might have been a possum came snuffling around, and I also got several decent quality recordings of my bird.

I sat down and googled again. After 20 minutes, I knew it wasn't a kiwi.

An excellent YouTube clip exists of a kiwi at the bottom of a Russell garden. Both male and female - they have very different calls.

Pete was right - the cadence for my bird was all wrong - it stopped after three or four calls. The kiwi I saw rattled off up to 10 consecutive calls.

And contrary to popular belief, it sounded nothing like "kee-wee".

What was it then? Pete had suggested morepork made all sorts of noises other than the one that gives it its name.

No luck there. And then I tried pukeko.

No luck there either. Until I found a four-minute recording ... and bang in the middle was my bird, note for pukeko note.

I rang Pete on the Monday morning and told him there was no need to borrow his recording device, which by the way is available if anyone thinks they have kiwi nearby.

I was surprised - the prospect that there might be kiwi nearby had thrilled me.

Yet this was the bird that, at my flippant worst, I had regarded as a KFC meal without the box.

My brief conversation with Pete had highlighted the local kiwi populations, and reinforced the struggle this wee bird has to survive.

By rights it shouldn't exist. It's plump, can't fly and at ground level, an easy target. It has become nocturnal, to avoid predators.

Its resilience and the relationship it has built with humans, who understand its struggle and the fact it is a national treasure, is seeing it endure. It is a unique animal, surviving against the odds.

I used to joke the kiwi would make a fine roast dinner.

But now, I reckon it makes a damn fine national symbol.