After perhaps the most intense election Forest & Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition has ever seen, we finally have our winner - and the results may surprise you.
The competition has previously been called Bird of the Year but this year, with competition runners Forest & Bird turning 100, they decided to name it Bird of the Century, and plenty of bird enthusiasts far and wide (we’re looking at you John Oliver) have taken an interest.
In fact, it has been such a popular contest this time around, the conservationist organisation made the decision last week to delay the winner announcement to today - it was originally scheduled for Monday, November 13.
So, now that we have finally reached the day, here is the moment you’ve all been waiting for:
Appearing on Breakfast this morning, Nicola Toki from Forest & Bird had the honour of announcing the winner - not before addressing the “mass voter fraud” that occurred though.
Speaking to Anna Burn-Francis, Toki revealed more than 700,000 people from 251 countries voted in this year’s election, which “complicated things enormously”. Especially as one very enthusiastic person in Pennsylvania put in 3400 votes – equating to one every three seconds.
Unfortunately for the bird lover, they were disqualified. But it’s not all bad news, over 350,000 voters did things the right way and were able to be verified giving us our winner.
Toki announced that the winner of this year’s Bird of the Century contest is the one, the only, the pūteketeke.
After quite the campaign, let’s take a look back at our favourite moments:
John Oliver’s campaign for the pūteketeke
US talk show host John Oliver has weighed in on a very important New Zealand matter.
Talk show host John Oliver made headlines last week when he weighed in on the very important New Zealand matter of which bird is best.
While hosting Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the host not only made time in his busy show to explain what the competition is, he also campaigned for his bird of choice: the pūteketeke.
Confessing he would like his chosen bird to have “the biggest landslide in the history of the competition”, he first explained to viewers why New Zealand was holding the election in the first place.
“This is a big deal: New Zealanders love birds,” he exclaimed. “They’re famously known as Kiwis after the kiwi bird and birds feature prominently on their currency, which is frankly much better than what US bills have on them.”
He concluded his campaign for the bird by jokingly adding: “After all, this is what democracy is all about: America interfering in foreign elections.”
Oliver accidentally offends New Zealand
John Oliver appears on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon dressed as a pūteketeke for the New Zealand's Bird of the Century contest. Photo / via video
After impressing Kiwis with his very devoted campaigning, Oliver quickly went from our biggest supporter to public enemy after he admitted to offending New Zealand in an unfortunate blunder while live on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Appearing on Fallon’s show dressed as a giant bird, Oliver was campaigning for the pūteketeke when he slipped up live on air and in his own words accidentally offended the entire nation.
“On our show on Sunday, we entered the Australian ... uh, sorry. Not Australia. New Zealand. I could not have made a more offensive mistake than that,” Oliver mistakenly told Fallon as millions around the US watched on.
The crowd then burst out laughing before Oliver attempted to brush the cheeky mistake under the rug.
“Although, potato, potato [potahto], am I right?”
Air New Zealand joins the conversation
Aotearoa’s national carrier even decided to hop on to The Bird of the Century chatter, penning a ‘Dear John’ letter to Oliver for his efforts.
Air New Zealand invited the chat show star to migrate south on its “very own bird” to find out if the feathered friend he’s backing takes out the coveted prize.
Air New Zealand’s chief customer & sales officer Leanne Geraghty said Kiwis were spitting feathers when they found out the comedian was meddling in the nation’s most significant election of the year, so it was only right he visited.
“As fellow fliers, we love John Oliver’s passion for the pūteketeke, but we think it’s time he enjoys the magic of meeting our impeccable native birds in the flesh. We’re inviting John to Aotearoa for an exclusive meet and greet.
“There’s nothing quite like a bird’s eye view of Aotearoa from the window seat of our very own winged flier, so we’re offering John the opportunity to jump on board and visit us to back his bird — on us. It’s just one easy flight from his studio’s base in NYC.
“Aotearoa has given John a lot of material over the years, so it’s only natural he visits the source of many of his punchlines to smooth any feathers he’s ruffled. John — we know you’re a good egg, it’s about time for a visit.”
The New Zealand falcon, or kārearea - pictured here at the Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust in Rotorua - is also in the running. Photograph / Alan Gibson
The Bird of the Year’s past controversies
It may come as a surprise to some but several voting scandals have rocked the world’s most important bird poll throughout the years. Voter fraud and attempted fraud were discovered in 2015, 2017 and 2020 — and it caused quite the drama.
Quoting Forest & Bird’s response at the time, Oliver said on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: “We’re not mad, just impressed that someone cares enough about New Zealand’s native birds to rig the competition. This all speaks to how much the people of New Zealand justifiably love this competition.”
After the scandal, an email vote verification system was implemented and an independent data scrutineer was employed to analyse this year’s votes for any irregularities that may point to foul play.
Elsewhere, the long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus), also known as the pekapeka-tou-roa won in 2021 shocking those invested in the competition.
The pekapeka or long-tailed bat was named as the New Zealand Bird of the Year in 2021. Photo / Ian Davidson-Watts
Another scandal that Oliver passionately touched on during his 13-minute segment was the “bulls**t” kākāpō disqualification in 2008 and 2020, after the competition attempted to shine a light on the country’s lesser-known birds.
“We don’t do that for other awards,” Oliver sarcastically quipped, adding: “Oh sorry Beyoncé, you’ve already won 32 Grammys. You are disqualified from now on so that someone worse than you can win, I hope you understand.”
Why the contest matters
When it comes to The Bird of the Century competition, the most important goal is the support and awareness behind the feathery contenders.
Following Oliver’s show segment, online searches for the pūteketeke spiked significantly. What’s more, Forest & Bird confirmed via X, formerly Twitter, that donations had seen a significant increase this year and that they were “blown away by people’s generosity”.
RealNZ's kākāriki karaka Bird of the Century billboard. Photo / RealNZ
“People should exercise their democratic right to vote if they’d like to see their favourite feathered friend swoop to the top of the flock, and to show their support for our native birdlife,” Ellen Rykers from Forest & Bird told the Herald last week.
“Behind all the silliness, memes and bird costumes, there’s a serious underlying message: more than 80 percent of our native birds are threatened or at risk of extinction.
“Given we love our birds so much, let’s make sure we protect them.”
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