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Kiwi Symbolism & Meaning (+Totem, Spirit & Omens)

Brown Kiwi 2

Everything about the Kiwi is a bit strange. This pint-sized flightless bird is barely recognizable as a bird at all. These New Zealand natives, which almost resemble rodents, belong to the genus “apteryx” meaning “without wings.” In fact, when Kiwis were first described to the European public, they were unsure of what to make of these birds. Illustrations based on skins brought back by Europeans who had visited New Zealand looked a bit more like penguins. It wouldn’t be until 1851 that a live Kiwi would arrive in England to be displayed at the London Zoo. (1)

Kiwis have miniscule feathers which look like hairs, tiny vestigial wings which can only be seen upon close examination, nostrils at the tips of their long slender bills, and thick sturdy legs. They live in underground burrows and behave so much like mammals that it is believed by some that they evolved to fill an ecological niche which would otherwise be filled by mammals. New Zealand has no native land mammals besides bats, so it’s possible that Kiwis fill some mammalian roles. Kiwis are the smallest members of the “ratite” group which includes cassowaries, ostriches, and emus. Kiwis are also nocturnal and nest in underground burrows. All of these traits are extremely unusual amongst birds and set the Kiwi apart as a one-of-a-kind creature. (2)

To learn more about the symbolism of the Kiwi, its unusual traits, and the myths associated with this fascinating bird, read on!

On this page
Kiwi Symbolism and Meaning
Kiwi in Dreams
Kiwi Encounters and Omens
Kiwi Mythology and Folklore
    Maori Mythology:
Kiwi Spirit Animal
Kiwi Totem Animal
Kiwi Power Animal
Kiwi Tattoo Meaning

Kiwi Symbolism and Meaning

First and foremost, the Kiwi is a national symbol for New Zealand and its people. Due to the Kiwi’s usage as a military emblem, soldiers from New Zealand began to be referred to as “Kiwis” during World War One. This national association was cemented in 1934 when the Kiwi first appeared on New Zealand’s national currency. Nowadays, the Kiwi holds its position as the indisputable animal mascot for New Zealand. In 2016, proposals for a new flag featuring the Kiwi gained steam but ultimately lost to the current New Zealand flag. New Zealand’s citizens are often referred to at home and abroad as Kiwis. (3)

Symbolically, Kiwis are often associated with uniqueness. Their unusual ecological niche, anatomy, and behaviors connect them with all things odd and eccentric.

Additionally, Kiwis are famous for their disproportionately large eggs. Kiwi eggs amount to roughly twenty percent of the mother’s body size. Compare this with humans, whose offspring at birth are about five percent of their mother’s body size. This would be akin to a human woman giving birth to a toddler. So, Kiwis are sometimes used to represent the struggles of motherhood. (4)

Because Kiwis are territorial and defend their homes, which consist of dozens of burrows in the earth, these birds can also represent the safety and sanctity of the home. This is especially true thanks to the Kiwi’s tendency to be monogamous, to mate for life, and to lay up to one hundred eggs over the course of a lifetime. Kiwis represent both the home and the family. (5)

Finally, one of the most salient symbolic associations for the Kiwi is an unfortunate one. Kiwis have suffered a marked decline since their peak, when there were an estimated twelve million Kiwis across New Zealand. Currently, Kiwi numbers sit around a mere 68,000. Conservation efforts are in full swing, however the Kiwi’s numerous threats are almost impossible to completely overcome. New Zealand once had zero land based mammalian predators. It was in this mammal-free forested landscape that the Kiwi evolved and thrived. Human introduced mammals, including rats, weasels, stoats, cats, and especially dogs, have since devastated Kiwi populations along with habitat loss. The good news is that conservation agencies are aware and engaged in limiting threats to Kiwi populations. By monitoring Kiwi territories, trapping invasive predators, and training dogs to avoid Kiwis, it is believed that their populations could eventually recover. Thus, Kiwis represent the struggle to conserve delicate ecosystems and protect animals which cannot adapt to introduced dangers. (6)

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Kiwi in Dreams

If you’ve been dreaming of the Kiwi, it may mean that you need to turn your attention towards a neglected area in your life. The Kiwi is an elusive animal which is rarely seen by humans. Kiwis are nocturnal and spend much of their time underground.

A Kiwi in a dream may mean that you are feeling overlooked or that you are struggling to open up to others. Like the Kiwi, you must find your inner strength and learn to stand your ground if you want others to notice you. To enforce the respect that you deserve, setting boundaries is key.

A Kiwi dream may also mean that you feel as though you’ve taken on more than you can handle. Like the Kiwi’s giant egg, something formidable may be weighing you down. Remember, though, that despite its seemingly impossible size, the Kiwi can produce up to a hundred eggs in its life. What seems impossible now may feel easier with time and perspective.

Kiwi Encounters and Omens

A Kiwi encounter is a lucky happenstance indeed, as these birds are rarely found by accident. As such, a Kiwi encounter can be an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the unique adaptations of the Kiwi.

Kiwis are flightless and possess thick sturdy legs and thin hair-like feathers. Although they have wings, these wings are miniscule and completely vestigial. Thus, the Kiwi reminds us to embrace our strengths. Do not dwell on where you think you ought to be; focus instead on where your abilities are best put to use. If the Kiwi was convinced that it belonged in the sky, it would spend each day pursuing a useless goal whilst ignoring its beautiful forest floor home.

The Kiwi is a lesson in accepting that where we are our best selves is where we belong, even if it isn’t where we think we ought to be.

Kiwi in Mythology & Folklore

Kiwis are native to New Zealand alone, and as such, they are present solely in the mythology of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture. The following section includes a brief summary of the Kiwi’s significance to the Maori people as well as a myth demonstrating the Kiwi’s virtues.

Brown Kiwi
Brown Kiwi (2010) by Smithsonian Institution. Original from Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Maori Mythology:

For the Maori people, the native Polynesian culture indigenous to New Zealand, the Kiwi is an important bird which has a special role in the lives of the Maori people. Once hunted for food and for their feathers which had ritual purposes, due to conservation threats, Maori no longer hunt Kiwis. Instead, Maori people often express a sense of guardianship over the Kiwi. The feathers of the Kiwi are still sometimes collected, but only from birds which have died on their own. (7)

One reason that the Maori treasure the Kiwi so much is due to the belief that the Kiwi is sacred to both the god of the forest, Tanemahuta, and the god of birds, Tanehokahoka. Both gods came to favor the Kiwi after this bird displayed its selflessness to preserve the entire forest.

One day Tanemahuta was walking through his forests and noticed with dismay that his children, the trees, were not thriving. He inspected his beloved trees closely and saw that the insects that crawled along the forest floor were creeping up the trunks of his trees. The insects were devouring his children’s bark and Tanemahuta knew that if nothing was done then his beautiful forests would be no more. So, Tanemahuta called out to his brother Tanehokahoka, the god of birds. Tanehokahoka understood right away that this was a gravely serious matter. If the trees died then his own children, the birds, would have nowhere to live. They would surely die as well. The brothers discussed the matter and devised a solution. One of Tanehokahoka’s birds would need to give up the skies and live on the forest floor where they would eat up the insects. (8)

Tanehokahoka began to ask all of his children whether they would be willing to live on the ground. First, he asked the Tui bird, but Tui was afraid of the dark and would not leave the sunlit canopy of the treetops. Next, he asked Pukeko (the swamphen). Pukeko also refused, saying that he thought the earth was too damp and cold and that he wanted to keep his feet dry. Then, Tanehokahoka asked Pipiwharauroa (the cuckoo). Pipiwharauroa was far too busy building his nest, though, and he also refused. Frustrated, Tanehokahoka threw two white pebbles at Tui, marking him with two white spots to punish his cowardice. He then cursed Pukeko to live in the damp swamp and burned a bright red mark onto his face. As for Pipiwharauroa, Tanehokahoka cursed him to never build his own nest again. From then on, the Pipiwharauroa has had to lay its eggs in the nests of others. (9)

Frustrated and running out of options, Tanehokahoka and Tanemahuta turned to Kiwi and asked if he would give up the skies to save the trees. Although he would surely miss the sunshine at the treetops, Kiwi agreed. Tanemahuta warned Kiwi that he would lose his beautiful colors and his wings if he agreed. Kiwi understood what had to be done and accepted his new role for the sake of the forest. In return, Tanemahuta gave Kiwi strong sturdy legs and a long bill which he could use to find his food. Kiwi never flew again, but his sacrifice was never forgotten and he became the most beloved bird of them all. (10)

Kiwi Spirit Animal

The Kiwi spirit animal is a surprisingly feisty one. Fiercely protective and willing to take on any challenge, people with the Kiwi as their spirit animal have a tendency to bite off a bit more than they can chew. Fortunately, though, the Kiwi spirit animal is fantastic at forming lifelong bonds with loved ones who will back them up in any conflict.

People with the Kiwi spirit animal have a tendency to be closed off and secretive when it comes to strangers. Join their trusted circle, though, and the Kiwi wears their heart upon their sleeve. Ever the eccentric, people with the Kiwi spirit animal prefer to forge their own paths and are never afraid to dance to their own beat.

Although they may seem shy, people with the Kiwi spirit animal tend to enjoy being surrounded by loved ones. For the Kiwi spirit more is more so long as everyone can be trusted. People with this spirit animal tend to desire large families.

Kiwi Totem Animal

The Kiwi totem animal is associated with groundedness, cooperation, and compromise. People with the Kiwi totem animal are unafraid of doing what they must do for the sake of the greater good. They are often mediators in conflict situations because they are capable of maintaining their cool in most situations.

The Kiwi totem strives for harmony and balance. Although they may seem carefree or easygoing, people with this totem animal often must work hard to keep their impulses in check. Because they value fairness and peace highly, people with the Kiwi totem are often the first to compromise, even when emotions are running high.

Kiwi Power Animal

The Kiwi power animal is associated with trustworthiness and reliability. People with the Kiwi as their power animal would never betray a friend. Because people with the Kiwi power animal value their own privacy so highly, they see gossip and secret sharing to be unforgivable betrayals.

People with the Kiwi power animal are inherently honest and faithful, but when entrusted with a secret, they treat this responsibility with the utmost gravity and respect. Additionally, you can count on someone with the Kiwi power animal to always keep their promises, even when the odds are against them.

Kiwi Tattoo Meaning

A Kiwi tattoo is a natural choice for someone intending to express pride or fondness for New Zealand. This may be chosen to represent the nation itself, its people, its natural wildlife, or its indigenous Maori heritage.

A Kiwi tattoo may also represent eccentricity and embracing one’s unique personality, interests, and strengths.

A Kiwi tattoo may also be chosen to commemorate the important conservation work that is being done worldwide for animals of all kinds, including the threatened Kiwi population.

Conclusion

Kiwis are beautiful. Not in the typical graceful, vibrant, and ephemeral way in which most birds are called beautiful. No, for Kiwis beauty is a much more subtle grounded thing. Brown and mousey with beady eyes and strange proportions, the Kiwi is decidedly inelegant. Kiwis, however, are unique on this earth. In so many ways, there is nothing else on this planet quite like the Kiwi. It is a matter of great importance that the Kiwi is preserved and restored so that future generations can enjoy this special bird!

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