Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis? (And why you shouldn’t eat a Kiwi!)

Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis? What is a kiwi? Join these kiwis as we figure out exactly what’s going on down under…

Put your fork down and back away from the kiwi.

I mean it!

As we’re travelled more and more, it’s come to our attention that the majority of the world doesn’t really know what a kiwi is.

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So, Why Are New Zealanders Called Kiwis?

This is a kiwi…

A brown Kiwi bird walking while its beak points on the ground. downward.

This is a kiwi fruit.

A brown kiwi fruit that is whole, and the other two are sliced.

When we introduce ourselves as kiwis abroad we often get confused looks.

Why would they name themselves after a piece of fruit?

With that in mind, it’s time we set the record straight for our international readers.

Kiwis aren’t food…

Why Are New Zealanders Called Kiwis?

A kiwi is a small, flightless bird that is endemic to New Zealand.  That means that not only is it native to the country, but it is not found anywhere else in the world.

They’re special little things, and they are entirely unique to New Zealand.

Due to Aotearoa’s geographic isolation and lack of native mammals, kiwis lived for years without any major predators.  Over time, they adapted to their environment – without any real threats, there was no need to fly, no need for good eyesight – and now, millions of years on, they remain genetically unchanged.  Unfortunately, however, their environment has changed significantly due to human settlement and these quirky characters have long been classified as endangered.

Fun Fact:  You might even have noticed that kiwifruit look surprisingly similar to our little kiwi birds.  It’s no coincidence that the Chinese gooseberry flourished down in New Zealand and was appropriate renamed ‘kiwifruit’ due to its similar exterior.

An average of 27 kiwi are killed by predators EVERY WEEK. That’s a population decline of around 1,400 kiwi every year (or 2%). At this rate, kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime. Just one hundred years ago, kiwi numbered in the millions.

A single roaming dog can wipe out an entire kiwi population in a matter of days

Approximately 20% of the kiwi population is under management.

In areas under where predators are controlled, 50-60% of chicks survive. When areas are not under management 95% of kiwi die before reaching breeding age.

Only 20% survival rate of kiwi chicks is needed for the population to increase.

Save the Kiwi

Fortunately though, things are improving for some kiwi populations. On the Coromandel, where kiwis live in a controlled area, free of predators, their numbers are doubling every decade.

Nature conservation programs such as Kiwi Guardians are also in motion. This activity encourages children and families to explore, care, and connect with nature

… But can I call you a Kiwi?


As our national bird, icons don’t get much more Kiwi than the kiwi.

When you visit our neighbours across the ditch in Australia, you’ll call them Ozzies.  When you refer to a New Zealander, you’re welcome to call us Kiwis – a name that has become so entrenched in our culture, it’s hard to imagine being called anything else!

Did you know? There is no ‘s’ in te reo Māori, so officially a group of people from New Zealand are called ‘kiwi’ – not ‘kiwis’. We use the singular term for plurals.

To help you get to know these interesting little creatures a bit better, here are some kiwi facts to help you on your way…

  • They’re known as honorary mammals due to some of their habits and physical traits.  They have nostrils at the end of their long beaks, have feathers that resemble hair and lay massive eggs – proportionally they have some of the biggest eggs around, with babies being 20% of the mothers size (humans by comparison are only 5%).
  • Kiwis are nocturnal birds, spending the day sleeping whilst hunting at night.
  • Though you’re incredibly unlikely to find a Kiwi in the wild yourself, you never know.  Moonless nights are your best opportunity – a couple of hours after the sun sets or just as it’s about to rise.  Don’t let us get your hopes up though; neither Nathan or I have ever managed to spot one in the wild.
  • Part of the ratites group, these ancient animals can’t fly. You may be familiar with some of their larger cousins though – the ostritch, emu and another New Zealand giant, the extinct moa.

FAQ Questions About All Things Kiwi

Is it ok to call a New Zealander a Kiwi?

It absolutely is ok to call a New Zealander a Kiwi.  Though in some countries a nickname like this would be considered offensive, it is anything but in New Zealand. So go ahead and call us Kiwis!

Why are New Zealanders called Kiwis?

Kiwis are New Zealand’s iconic native bird.  The kiwi bird emblem was first seen on the badges of soldiers in the late 1880s and is now a commonly used nickname used to describe people from New Zealand.

How did kiwifruit get its name?

Kiwifruit got their name due to their resemblance to the kiwi bird – both are brown and fluffy.

Kiwi fruits in whole and sliced.

So, now you know.  We’re not named after a fruit at all, but a gutsy little flightless bird and a pretty cute one at that.

Though we can’t answer the age-old question of which came first – the chicken or the egg – we can say with absolute certainty that the kiwi came before the kiwifruit!

Image credit: WallpaperWeb, AgroProducts and ScienceDaily.


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