Kiwis flock to Bird of the Year poll

Ben McKay
·2-min read

With the general election done and dusted, New Zealanders are turning their attention to another national contest: the Bird of the Year.

The light-hearted annual poll, run by conservation group Forest and Bird to highlight the plight of New Zealand's endemic birds, attracts thousands of entries each year.

Passionate Kiwis run campaigns on behalf of their favourite birds, catapulting lesser-known species into the limelight and helping conservation efforts.

Last year's winner - the hoiho or yellow-eyed penguin - was endorsed by bands, the University of Otago and politicians.

Campaigners sell merchandise, create online communities and compete for eyeballs on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, hoping to swing votes behind their bird of choice.

Thousands of Australians already vote in the poll but organisers are encouraging more to.

"Anybody who loves and appreciates New Zealand's native birds is welcome to take interest and vote," Forest and Bird's Laura Keown told AAP.

"Bird of the Year was originally planned to end on the weekend of 17 October but we didn't want to overshadow the quite important human election."

Recent winners include a gluttonous green and white pigeon known as the kereru and the kea, an endangered brown alpine parrot which can be seen by tourists visiting Milford Sound, New Zealand's most popular natural attraction.

It's been 11 years since the national emblem - the kiwi - won the competition, prompting a patriotic push behind the endangered flightless favourite.

The little spotted kiwi or kiwi pukupuku has claimed Sam Neill's support after the much-loved actor liked a campaign tweet.

Other campaigners hope their bird could come from the clouds for a surprise victory.

Marc Daalder, campaign manager for the variable oystercatcher or torea pango, believes his favourite seabird can vault from 72nd place last year to win the 2020 poll.

"Everyone loves an underdog (underbird?) and our insurgent campaign is poised to take the world of bird politics by storm," he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has given her support to perennial underachiever the black petrel or taiko.

"I have been very, very loyal to the black petrel ever since I was ambassador for the bird ... it hasn't yet got over the line so I'll stick with it," she said in Wellington on Monday.

Votes can be cast at birdoftheyear.org.nz, where the dozens of birds are listed with their conservation status, until November 15.