Belle/Benjamin

A case of mistaken identity had keepers—if not the bird—in the dark about this mysterious species.
  • 1950s

It is a curious creature that seemingly does everything wrong for a bird: it shuns daylight, refuses to fly, and burrows underground. It sports feathers that are more like hair and has an outlandishly long beak leading to delicate nostrils at the far end. Meet the incomparable kiwi!

In December 1954, the Zoo received one kiwi from Auckland, New Zealand, the only one in the Western Hemisphere. It was named Belle, after the Zoo’s director emeritus, Belle Benchley. However, there was a great deal of mystery surrounding the species at the time, and this bird was keeping a secret. As it turned out, Belle was a boy! The sexing of many birds is tricky, and this kiwi had been mistakenly indicated as female. It was time for a name change—and Belle became Benjamin.

Future breeding efforts were also frustrating, even when pairs of this unusual species were presented to the Zoo with much fanfare. When Toa and Uha were gifted to the Zoo from the New Zealand government, it was later found they were both males, which “did little to enhance the breeding program which, like the kiwis, never got off the ground,” as a ZOONOOZ article pithily stated. In June 1969, a new kiwi enclosure was dedicated, the first nocturnal exhibit at the Zoo.

It took many years before the kiwi breeding puzzle was solved at the Zoo. The first kiwi hatched—finally—in 1983!

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