The little spotted kiwi (Apteryx owenii) is a flightless ratite formerly found throughout New Zealand but now greatly reduced in distribution. Previous phylogeographic studies of the related brown kiwi (A. mantelli, A. rowi and A. australis), with which little spotted kiwi was once sympatric, revealed extremely high levels of genetic structuring, with mitochondrial DNA haplotypes often restricted to populations. We surveyed genetic variation throughout the present and pre-human range of little spotted kiwi by obtaining mitochondrial DNA sequences from contemporary and ancient samples. Little spotted kiwi and great spotted kiwi (A. haastii) formed a monophyletic clade sister to brown kiwi. Ancient samples of little spotted kiwi from the northern North Island, where it is now extinct, formed a lineage that was distinct from remaining little spotted kiwi and great spotted kiwi lineages, potentially indicating unrecognized taxonomic diversity. Overall, little spotted kiwi exhibited much lower levels of genetic diversity and structuring than brown kiwi, particularly through the South Island. Our results also indicate that little spotted kiwi (or at least hybrids involving this species) survived on the South Island mainland until more recently than previously thought.