New Zealand Kiwis Are a Treasure

New Zealand Kiwis

There are animals designed to fill every ecological niche, and they are often specialized for a local ecosystem. Many flightless birds have a unique ability to fill a specialized niche. Penguins and ostriches are examples of that. New Zealand kiwis are an especially odd example of birds designed for a unique environment.

These flightless, nocturnal birds fill a niche in the New Zealand forests. They are about the size of a chicken, and they eat worms, insects, and berries. Kiwi feathers resemble the rough fur of some mammals rather than bird feathers. The feathers shed dirt efficiently, which is good since they live in dug-out burrows underground. Kiwis get their name from their vocalizations, which sound like “keee weee.”

Kiwis have no keel on their sternum and no tail, so they can’t fly. They do have muscular legs with four toes. (Most flightless birds in the ratite group have two or three.) They have thick, tough skin and heavy, dense bones. (Most birds have hollow bones for flying.) They have a low body temperature for a bird. Their bills have nostrils at the tip, giving them an acute sense of smell. By eating worms, grubs, and insects, kiwis maintain the ecological balance needed in the forest. New Zealand kiwis had no predators until humans introduced dogs and cats to the country.

Kiwi eggs are designed differently from other bird eggs. They are huge, being equal to 20% of the mother’s weight. It would be like a human mother having a baby one-fifth of her weight. The eggs have twice as much yolk as other bird eggs, and they contain antibacterial and antifungal materials needed for living in underground burrows. The male sits on the egg until the chick kicks its way out since kiwi chicks have no egg tooth to break the shell. The parents do not feed the chick, which lives on the extra yoke until it can follow the male outside to get worms and insects.

God’s design is different in each ecosystem, but there are always creatures that provide balance. When humans upset that balance, the result can be a disaster. New Zealand kiwis are an example of unique specialization to support the forests of that unique country. To the people of New Zealand, they are a treasure.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Data from the NewZealand.com

Great Auk and Human Stewardship Failure

Great Auk and Human Stewardship FailureIt was a flightless North Atlantic bird that stood upright 30-33 inches (75-85 cm) tall and weighed 11 pounds (5 kg). Its small wings were less than 6 inches (15 cm) long. It’s also the story of the great auk and human stewardship failure.

The fact that the great auk couldn’t fly and that it was large enough to provide a meal for hungry sailors is a major reason why it became extinct. People also killed them for their feathers. As the great auk was nearing extinction, people killed the last ones to stuff their skins and display them as trophies in museums and private collections.

Though the great auk couldn’t fly in the air, it did fly underwater. Some might say this bird was poorly designed with its large body and small wings. But underwater, those wings became fins to pursue and catch fish. Larger wings would have been a hindrance underwater. The large size of this bird gave evidence that it found abundant food and had no need to fly in the air.

Great auks had few predators, but since they couldn’t fly and were slow on land, they became easy prey for humans. When it was evident that they were becoming extinct, great auks became more valuable. Collectors wanted a stuffed bird for a trophy, and museums wanted one for display. At last, there was only one breeding pair and one egg left on Eldey Island off the coast of Iceland. On July 3, 1844, three men climbed up on Eldey Island, killed the last two birds, and smashed the egg. The great auk was no more.

The picture shows a monument to the great auk in Iceland facing toward Eldey, the rocky island where the birds made their last stand. It tells the sad story of the great auk and human stewardship failure. God gave humans the duty to care for His creation. He commanded Adam and Eve to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Jesus told us that God cares for the birds. (See Matthew 6:26 and Luke 12:6.) The Apostle Paul in Romans 13:4 talks about human rulers. He wrote that they are “God’s servants for your good.” I think we can apply that concept of rulers to our duty toward the living creatures God created. We are stewards entrusted with caring for the world God gave us, including the living creatures.

Today there is a lack of regard even for human life. For the sake of convenience, people kill babies before they are born. Others set out to kill as many people as possible using guns or vehicles. The great auk and human stewardship failure is a reminder of how many times humans have failed to keep God’s commands. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by Grace!” (Ephesians 2:4-5 CSV).
— Roland Earnst © 2019