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April 20, 2012 / chantellerichards

Kiwis Lay Eggs?!

Kiwi: the Bird and Fruit

Yes, Kiwis lay eggs. To you or I, this is a very simple sentence with a very simple concept but to a child or an unfamiliar reader, a Kiwi could be the fruit, and not necessarily the bird. Sometimes, the absence of a narrative visual description can cause the imagination to ‘run wild’, and end up with something quite unlike the topic, as seen in the picture to the right.

“An X-ray photo of a gravid female kiwi, taken fifteen hours before laying, shows this: a skull, with its long beak; a graceful S-shaped neck; an arched backbone; a pair of hunched-up femurs; and at the center of it all, a huge smooth ovoid – her egg – like a moon during a full solar eclipse.”

The above quote is taken from David Quammen’s chapter ‘The Kiwi’s Egg’ in the book ‘The Reluctant Mr. Darwin’. Here, Quammen has used a scientific description of the pregnant Kiwi bird with the use of a metaphor to aid the reader’s imagination. The pregnant Kiwi bird itself, is a metaphor to depict Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection. Below, I have included a narrative visual description showing the X-ray of the gravid Kiwi bird on the left, and the size of the egg compared to a human adult’s hands. Are both effective in the portrayal of the Kiwi bird’s egg? Is one description more effective than the other?

The Kiwi's egg weighs approximately 20% of its total body mass.

A scientific description can be defined as a formal piece of descriptive literature, where as a narrative visual description is a story that can be explained using primarily visual means, like photographs.

So, how does a writer choose what style to use? Can they use both?

The writer must know their target audience. One cannot write anything without the target audience in mind. If you were writing an article for a science journal such as Science Magazine, then you would be more inclined to utilise scientific descriptions in aid of explaining your theories or research. However, if you were writing a children’s book to explain the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly, for example, then you would surely use a narrative visual description to aid the child’s mind.

There may also be instances, where both descriptions can be used to convey the correct image for the reader’s imagination, and personally, I think this is the most beneficial way to convey anything. It is like a game or Charades or Pictionary; when you are the one acting, writing, or drawing, you always wish you could combine them all to make it easier for the others to guess.

Quammen, D (2006). The Kiwi’s Egg: 1842-1844. The Reluctant Mr.Darwin (pp 52-55). New York: Atlas.

Photograph: ‘Kiwi: the Bird and Fruit’  by jace56 through, Aviary.

Photograph: ‘The Kiwi’s Egg’ by, Creative Commons.



Leave a Comment
  1. keikok / Apr 22 2012 4:12 am

    This is very interesting topic you brought up chantellerichards.

    Firstly, I didn’t know the fact that the Kiwi’s egg weighs about 20% of her total body mass. An egg is huge!! I knew Kiwi is endemic to New Zealand and a national symbol of them but I have never seen it in the real or had the chance to see the size of their egg. So, thank you for choosing this topic.

    Answering your question, I think two of your pictures are effective to support the description of Kiwi’s egg. Also, I think a metaphor used by David Quammen above made a scientific description easier to understand.

    I agree to you saying a writer must know their target audience. However, I think Science Magazine also uses a narrative visual description to aid the audience’s mind. Not only Science Magazine but also Nature Magazine, Discover Magazine and some the others has such great visuals and I think their pictures are very helpful for me to understand their concept. When I was 10 years old, I didn’t understand most of their scientific words but they still was fun because of the visuals.
    So, I think writers can use both of scientific words and narrative visuals.

    I really enjoyed it. Good job!

  2. baileymoser / Apr 22 2012 7:52 am

    This is a good blog post, but you were so thorough at answering your own questions that there isn’t much more we can discuss!

    I like the example you chose for Kiwi, fruit vs. bird, it really demonstrates the point you are trying to make about how verbal and visual descriptions of concepts are key to unambiguously explaining a scientific concept.

    • caitiedunlap / Apr 27 2012 10:31 am

      I really agree that the kiwi, either the fruit or the bird, demonstrated how something that we think is so simple and easy to comprehend is really not that simple.

      Saying that it takes up 20% of its body makes you go woah thats a lot, but to see the visual really makes it hit home so its definitely useful.

  3. lachlanpetersen / Apr 22 2012 9:30 am

    I liked your first paragraph, very intriguing.
    The use of the two photos showing the size of the egg makes a really strong point, and your main image of the kiwi bird/fruit was very clever and appropriate. You really did wrap up the whole topic in what is a very easy to read and concise post.

    Answering your question about which photo is better, I would say that generally the photo of the hands holding the egg would be better as more people know the relative size of someones hands better than the they know the relative size of the egg in the x-ray of the bird. So if you wanted to know the actual size of the egg, the hands would be better, but if you wanted to know the size of the egg relative to the size of the kiwi, the x-ray would be better.
    All in all, good post.

    • lodoubt / Apr 25 2012 3:53 pm

      I actually felt the opposite way: Whilst the hands provide a more accurate idea of the size of a kiwi egg in absolute terms, there are birds out there with larger eggs. The X-ray is far more evocative and useful to me in terms of getting across the *significance* of that size.

      • chantellerichards / Apr 26 2012 7:56 am

        Oh really? The research that I did about the size of the Kiwi’s egg stated that it is approximately the size of an ostrich egg, which was stated to have one of the largest eggs of all birds.

      • lodoubt / Apr 26 2012 3:27 pm

        I could discern it was about the size of an ostrich egg, but the direct comparison of the small bird and the big egg was pretty useful in instilling a sense of “Wow that poor bird”.

  4. n20939715 / Apr 22 2012 1:50 pm

    I think your use of visuals is great and very helpful in portraying the ideas to the reader (a point highly relevant to your topic).

    Between the image of the x-ray and the photo of the egg in someone’s hands, I think that they are both very useful. One relating the egg to the size of the animal and the other relating the size to us. I guess the choice of which one you would use would depend on your target audience (like you implied) but generally I think that they both work well together and combined are extremely informative.

  5. axl1228 / Apr 22 2012 3:20 pm

    Interesting post! And interesting picture!!!
    I think the X-ray picture looks more scientific. That maybe because of our norms, that we often use X-ray picture to show something about science, experiment, surgery…but the right one, the egg in the hand, it could be used with most article about kiwi’s eggs. Only that we can see from the right picture is the size and color of the egg, less informative than the X-ray picture, but it looks more interactive, with human hands in that.
    I definitely agree with you that the writer must know their target audience. I think writing style, language, pictures, even fonts and layout…those facts all need to be considered according to who you are writing for. All of them are all like tools for communicating. Whatever tools we use or focus on, effectiveness is the only indicator of success, and only by investigating the target audience well can we decide how to use them.
    Anyway, good job. Really enjoy reading your post.

  6. bonnyp / Apr 23 2012 2:45 am

    Firstly, this is a great post, and I particularly like the picture you used of a “kiwifruit bird”. It is really witty and tied together nicely with the opening part of your post. I agree that combining pictures and scientific textual descriptions are generally the most effective way of communicating to readers. The metaphor used by David Quammen enhances his scientific description in the text adds interest and aids understanding, but his writing is definitely enhanced with the aid of visuals.

    I also think that if you do decide to use visuals it is often better to use more than one, and the pictures in this post are a great example of that. As mentioned by lachlanpeterson, the x-ray of the bird and the photo of the egg are effective in different ways – to illustrate the size of the egg relative to the kiwi and relative to human hands. For me, both of these pictures are necessary, as I didn’t know anything about either how big a kiwi is, or about how big its egg is.

    I think this post illustrates how tying together the same idea in different styles of visual images can be the most effective way to use pictures to aid understanding.

  7. chantellerichards / Apr 23 2012 6:33 am

    Thank you to all of your comments so far.

    Firstly, I would like to thank keikok for pointing out that Science Magazine does in fact display many pictures along with its articles – it was definitely not the best example that I could have used! I should have maybe written something more like a research report, where quite often the figures are only that of graphs, for example.

    I found this topic quite interesting, especially because I had never thought about this previously. The egg is around the same size as an ostrich egg! Many scientists believe that over time, the Kiwi has actually become smaller, whilst the egg has remained the same size. Fascinating! This too, is quite fitting seeing as though this chapter was taken from the book ‘The Reluctant Mr. Darwin’, where Quammen explains Darwin’s theories on natural selection and genetic evolution.

  8. priscillalyf / Apr 23 2012 10:26 am

    What caught my attention to reading this post was the title, and then I looked at the picture of the Kiwi and was quite intrigued, so good job on that 🙂 .

    When I first saw the picture of the egg and read that it was about 20% of its body weight I couldn’t believe it. That egg is quite big.

    The images you used does help to effectively portray the Kiwi bird’s egg. I would say the x-ray image is the most effective to show the egg and the Kiwi bird in this case. I think this is the most effective because if just the image of the person holding the egg was there, it would not be as effective if someone does not know what a Kiwi bird looks like, they would assume that it came from a large bird and wouldn’t be as impressed. But for sure, using both images and the narration at the bottom does give a better understanding to the reader how big the egg really is.

    I do agree with you, the writer does have to know who the target audience is. Based on the target audience he/she could choose their style accordingly. But I do find descriptive narrative to be helpful, especially if I do not know the subject the writer is talking about. Also it does help to have pictures as well, as it helps to read the text easier, because it gives a ‘break’ for the reader by having a visual aid surrounded by text, instead of just words from top to bottom of the page and it could also help the reader understand the topic with the use of visuals.

  9. gracerussell1 / Apr 24 2012 2:22 am

    I agree with the above comments, great post, easy read and actually very interesting.
    However i also have to agree with Baileymoser, you posed questions to us and answered them in the rest of your blog. I think it would be more effective to leave the question to the end to make readers think about your question more and maybe discuss it in the comments below.

    When you mentioned the magazines – the first one that came to my mind was National Geographic. They have amazing stories accompanied by absolutely incredible pictures. Just to flick through the magazine and see such pictures – it entices the audience to read the article.

    I think you did a great job with this post 🙂

  10. noelynn / Apr 24 2012 3:36 am

    The post was great. I particularly was attracted to the title and the pictures. I think these summarises the whole article. The images chosen also were intrigued by the fact that the x-ray image can be simplified by the other image.

    Isn’t that what science communication is all about? One has to simplify the complexity involve in concepts. However, with the questions used, I would prefer them in the end as Grace highlighted. But overall, it was a pleasant post to read. Good job.

  11. chantellerichards / Apr 26 2012 7:57 am

    Oh and apologies for answering my questions. I was actually asking them to myself as well, hence why i answered them.

    Thanks everyone!

  12. markforeman92 / Apr 26 2012 4:14 pm

    Good job Chantelle! Loved the post. You’ve summed up your concept well and made it interesting! The X-ray of the kiwi was crazy! The scientific description is good, but it doesn’t compare to that image. In comparison to the actual animal, the egg is huge! The author can explain something like that all they want but until we see an image like that, i’m thinking it’s not as easy to understand. So i’m going to use the old cliche; A picture is worth a thousand words. But that’s just my opinion. Sometimes the science ramble bores me! Great post, top stuff!

  13. shortfletch / Apr 26 2012 6:24 pm

    Great job.

    My favourite part of the blog was your ending comment about Charades and Pictionary. I thought it was excellent at illustrating how one medium is not always enough. I know when I read Mr. Quamman’s quote the image in my mind was similar, but not the same as the photograph. Honestly I didn’t really get the whole, “moon like a solar eclipse” bit until I saw the x-ray. However, if I had just seen the photograph I would not have know that the picture was taken 15 hours before the egg was laid. Therefore, the two complemented each other nicely giving me a very detailed understanding.

    Also being foreign, I forget that Kiwi’s are actually birds (or New Zealanders and not just the fruit) so I would agree that a visual description to put everything in context is very important (Another great example is that I and Australians have a very different understanding of what thongs are. This can lead to awkward misunderstandings).

  14. kellyfitzsimons1 / Apr 27 2012 12:00 am

    Well done!

    The combination of a catchy title and engaging image meant that you had my full attention right from the beginning.It was these two factors that made me stop and start reading your blog as opposed to reading someone else’s. So, Congratulations. In my opinion, the placement of the other two images was great, as not only did the blog flow, but it also broke up the writing making it easy to read and understand. You continued to capture my attention through your crafty paragraphs. Like shortfletch, I also particularly liked your ending comment about Charades and Pictionary. I think that you make a valid point that it is beneficial to use a combination of factors to help explain something. When you think about it, everybody does it everyday. When we talk, we express ourselves through our body language, tone and facial expressions. The combination of all these usually mean that we are able to get our message across to our listener(s) more effectively than if we just used words and a mono-tone.

    Like, others have mentioned, I too would have also liked to answer the questions as part of a discussion in the comments. However, this discussion was limited as you had answered most of the questions. I realise that you intended to answer them, so maybe next time leave or include a few unanswered to be discussed by others.

    Overall, a fantastic blog 🙂

  15. lindsayd20374453 / Apr 27 2012 4:50 am

    Nicely written article. I found the X-ray image to be the most effective means of showing the size of the egg. Visual images are all about comparing the known to the unknown, and creating meaning as a result. In this case, I know kiwis aren’t very big, but the picture of the egg in human hands isn’t particularly useful in demonstrating the relative size of the egg. People have differently-sized hands, after all, and I’ve never seen a kiwi so I don’t know how big they are in reality. Having the comparison between the bird and the egg was for me the most effective means of communicating the message.

  16. sthompson / Apr 27 2012 5:00 am

    This is a really interesting topic, and I really enjoyed reading your blog post!

    I agree with all the points you make, especially the one about target audience, and it’s immense importance. When explaining something, scientific and narrative methods are almost always both used, because they are able to complement each other so well, and it’s usually the audience that determines the ratio of the two techniques. The scientific description gives the detail and the explanation that you need, and the image helps you to understand better, and gives it the most impact. In the same way that shorter sentences have more impact than long wordy ones, a picture can get the message to you straight away, and it’s very effective.

    As for the photo’s of the eggs, I am not sure which I would consider to be more effective, as I feel they serve slightly different purposes. The picture of the egg in the hands gives a great reference, as the reader can immediately identify with how big it really is, and it gives you that information in a way you can easily understand. The x-ray picture I think is also important in the way that it connects the size of the egg to the bird. For people that don’t know how big kiwi’s are, then this comparison is incredibly important, and has a bigger shock factor that just how big the egg itself is. I’m glad that both are included, as I think they work so well together, and give you a lot of information.

    Good job, I think this was a great post!

  17. rhiandyer / Apr 27 2012 5:53 am

    “One cannot write anything without the target audience in mind”

    I agree that this is probably the most important aspect of the difference between scientific descriptions and visual narratives. It all depends on what people are going to do with the information.

    A physiologist studying the evolution of reproduction would get more out of expressing the body to egg ratio as a number because they would know the ratio of other animals and could compare them quickly.

    People who are reading this for interest would see it as “wow imagine lugging that thing around” so it is far more effective showing them how much space is taken is actually taken up in the body.

    It may be possible to combine the two, but is it really necessary? In my example here I would think that the superfulous information would simply distract the reader from what they are trying to get out of it.

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