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Bird of the Year 2022: it’s reigning wrens

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Bird of the Year 2022

Photo: Craig McKenzie

After a two-week voting period filled with creative campaigning, a kākāpō controversy, and even a threat of legal action, the pīwauwau has risen to the pinnacle of New Zealand avian achievement, taking out this year’s Bird of the Year title.

“The pīwauwau win proves New Zealanders love an underbird,” said Forest & Bird chief executive Nicola Toki. “It’s been awesome to see Kiwis get to know some of their lesser-known feathered neighbours and celebrate how awesome they are.

“A vote for pīwauwau is a vote for climate action. As Aotearoa’s only true alpine bird, these tiny wrens are already feeling the impacts of warmer temperatures, which allow predators such as rats and stoats to climb higher and invade their mountaintop homes.”

The pīwauwau received 2894 number one votes – around 450 fewer than the kororā, but once the transferable votes were applied, the pīwauwau emerged at the top.

“We’re so happy pīwauwau are finally having their time in the spotlight,” said Stephen Day, who led the pīwauwau campaign alongside Lauren Schaer and the team at Herenga ā Nuku, the Outdoor Access Commission. “Unless you’d spent some time in the mountains, you’d probably never heard of a rock wren until two weeks ago. It’s a true underbird. The team here have enjoyed getting a bit silly with the memes and, of course, the rap video Wrenegade.

“It’s so worth the trip to see pīwauwau in the Southern Alps. They are tiny birds, chock full of character, and like so many other species, they’re threatened by pests and climate change.”

The pīwauwau is a little olive bird with a stubby tail and long legs, weighing about the same as a Mallowpuff. They have feet resembling snowshoes, with long talons like crampons for gripping onto rocks and snow. Rock wrens live above the bushline in the Southern Alps, bobbing and hopping between rocks rather than flying.

They are classified as nationally endangered and are threatened by introduced predators such as stoats, mice, and rats, which raid their nests. Rock wrens are one of two surviving species (along with titipounamu riflemen) from an ancient wren lineage unique to New Zealand.

“It’s been awesome to see enthusiasm for our native birdlife shine during these past two weeks,” says Bird of the Year spokes-human Ellen Rykers. “We’re stoked to see our hidden gem underbirds got some recognition. The underbirds received the biggest proportional increase in number one votes compared to 2021.

“In addition to the pīwauwau win, another underbird, the pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe, cracked the top 10.”

The voting closed at 5pm on 30 October with 51,856 verified votes cast.

The top 10 finishers (number one vote count in brackets)

  1. Pīwauwau /rock wren (2894)
  2. Kororā / little penguin (3351)
  3. Kea (1852)
  4. Karure/kakaruia /Chatham Island black robin (1594)
  5. Tawaki piki toka /rockhopper penguin (1468)
  6. Pīwakawaka /fantail (1228)
  7. Hihi/stitchbird (1302)
  8. Kārearea/New Zealand falcon (1260)
  9. Pūteketeke/Australasian crested grebe (1184)
  10. Titipounamu/rifleman (1477)

Words: Supplied

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