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Bat swoops in to claim Bird of the Year title

3 min read

The long-tailed bat won with 56,733 verified votes cast. Photo: Ian Davidson-Watts

Forest & Bird held its annual contest for New Zealand birds, Bird of the Year/Te Manu Rongonui o te Tau, with final voting closing on 31 October. The verdict—the birds lost. Instead, New Zealand’s only land mammal has flown away with the title.

This is the first time the pekapeka-tou-roa/long-tailed bat was included in Forest & Bird’s annual contest, and with both the most number-one ranked votes and most votes after transferrable vote ranking were applied, this tiny flying mammal made headlines.

The long-tailed bat made an entry a week before the competition opened with its own voting website and profile for voters to view.

“New Zealand’s bats are incredible, and they are in big trouble,” said Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year spokesperson Laura Keown.  

“They live side-by-side with our native birds, roost in hollow trees, and only come out at night to feast on insects. But many people don’t even know they exist. Maybe that’s how they snuck into the competition under cover of darkness.”   

This is the first time the pekapeka-tou-roa/long-tailed bat was included in Forest & Bird’s annual contest. Photo: Ian Davidson-Watts

The two-week campaign that nearly broke the internet and turned friends against one another, closed at 5pm on 31 October with 56,733 verified votes cast, making it the biggest ever Bird of the Year.

“Kiwis clearly love their native bat, and they have chosen our only native land mammal to be the 2021 Bird of the Year,” said Keown. 

“The campaign to raise awareness and support for this little flying furball has captured the nation.

“A vote for bats is also a vote for predator control, habitat restoration, and climate action to protect our bats and their feathered neighbours!” 

“Long-tailed bats, or pekapeka-tou-roa, are a unique part of Aotearoa’s biodiversity, but lots of people don’t know they even exist,” said Ben Paris, senior conservation advisor at Auckland Council and New Zealand Batman.

“There are pekapeka projects spanning the whole country with conservation communities doing great mahi with our bats. Here in Auckland our bat conservation efforts have been supported by our targeted rate, which has allowed us, together with our communities, to undertake a lot more work. The more citizen scientists we have out there looking for pekapeka, the more conservation work we can do to understand and help them.

“These bats were added to Forest & Bird’s competition to help people get to know them, and their story has flown around the world.”

Forest & Bird runs Te Hoiere Bat Recovery Project in Marlborough with the support of the Department of Conservation and Ngāti Kuia, involving 250 hectares of predator control and a bat monitoring programme every summer to identify roost sites and protect critical long-tailed bat habitat.    

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.

The top 10 finishers and #1 ranked votes:

  • Long-tailed bat/pekapeka-tou-roa (7031)
  • Kākāpō (4072)
  • Rifleman/titipounamu (2808)
  • Kea (2801)
  • Antipodean albatross/toroa (2790)
  • Black robin/kakaruia (2413)
  • TIE – Little penguin/kororā (1762) and Morepork/ruru (1762)
  • Blue duck/whio (1648)
  • Rockhopper penguin (1603)

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