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Kākāpō wins Bird of the Year 2020

4 min read

The kakapo wins 2020 Bird of the Year. Photo: Kimberley Collins

In the third most-anticipated and most-watched election this year, New Zealand’s moss-coloured flightless parrot has made history by climbing to the top spot for the second time in Forest & Bird’s annual Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau/Bird of the Year competition.

While throughout the two-week voting period, the Antipodean Albatross topped the leader board with most number-one votes, the kākāpō bounded into the lead with most votes overall once the preferential voting system was applied.

“Our kākāpō is the heaviest, the longest-living, the only flightless, and the only nocturnal parrot on the planet,” said Laura Keown, spokesperson for Bird of the Year. 

“This is the first time any bird has won the Bird of the Year title more than once, so New Zealand’s mighty moss chicken can add yet another feather to its cap.”

Kākāpō took its first Bird of the Year title back in 2008 and has remained a popular bird in the competition. 

“The things that make kākāpō unique also make them vulnerable to threats. They are slow breeders, they nest on the ground, and their main defence is to imitate a shrub. Those qualities worked great in the island of birds the kākāpō evolved in, but they don’t fool introduced predators like stoats, rats, and cats,” said Keown.

Kākāpō used to live throughout Aotearoa, but today, they only survive on predator-free islands.

“These birds were literally brought back from the brink of extinction. There were only 50 birds in the 1990s and they’ve been saved by intensive conservation efforts. Today, there are 213 Kākāpō Kākāpō Kākāpō,” said Keown. 

“In New Zealand, 80% of our native birds are in trouble or facing extinction, including the kākāpō. The nocturnal bird’s conservation status is still marked at threatened on Department of Conservation’s website.

The species faces challenges due to kākāpō infertility and inbreeding but there have been some successes.

“We really need to protect and restore the places our birds call home. New Zealand can and should be full of birds for future generations, and future Bird of the Year competitions.”  

Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year is a light-hearted competition with a serious purpose of spreading awareness about the threats to New Zealand’s native birds, three-quarters of which are threatened or at risk of extinction.

This was the 15th annual contest, which has grown into a national obsession, and there were 55,583 votes cast, up from 43,460 in 2019, and the most ever received in the competition’s history. 

2020 Campaign trail highlights

The Antipodean albatross was a serious contender with its catchphrase Seabirds Not Tree Birds and with the international albatross community valiantly rallying for New Zealand’s endangered taroa but that was not enough to fend off the cuddly kākāpō.

The weeks leading up to the elections also saw various alliances between birds, including the Kiwi Koalition, the Beach Boi Party, and the Penguin Party.

The kākāriki karaka/orange-fronted parakeet ran under the banner ‘The Orange Face You Can Trust’, even producing a range of t-shirts. These have become part of Bird of the Year range of haute couture along with Allbirds sneakers made in honour of the previous winner, the hoiho. 

The humble polygamist, the hihi, infamously won the endorsement of Adult Toy Megastore as well as that of the deputy prime minister, the Phoenix Football Team, and the Central Pulse Netball Team. 

But perhaps the most upsetting was the voter fraud that was discovered when volunteer scrutineers from Dragonfly Data Science found 1500 votes cast around 3am from the same IP address, all for the smallest (and cutest) kiwi species, kiwi pukupuku/little spotted kiwi. 

The votes briefly pushed the kiwi pukupuku to the top of the preferred bird leaderboard but the votes were removed from the competition once the fraud was discovered. 

“It’s lucky we spotted this little kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1500 votes under the cover of darkness,” said Keown.

“But they’ll have to play by the rules like all of the other birds to win the competition.” 

Kārearea/New Zealand Falcon was backed by hunters this year, which landed the bird in fourth place, a jump up from last year’s ninth placing.

“The kārearea is our most threatened bird of prey with only around 5,000 thought to remain,” said Game Animal Council chair Don Hammond.

“Hunters have a natural affinity with the NZ falcon, which is New Zealand’s native apex hunter. It’s also one of our native species that probably doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.”

Final results of Bird of the Year 2020

Top 10 winners with instant run-off preferential voting applied:

  1. Kākāpō
  2. Toroa/Antipodean albatross
  3. Kakaruia/Black robin
  4. Kārearea/New Zealand falcon
  5. Kererū
  6. Pohowera/Banded dotterel
  7. Kākā
  8. Ruru/Morepork
  9. Whio/Blue duck
  10. Pīwakawaka/Fantail

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