Pūteketeke Triumphs as New Zealand’s Bird of the Century Amidst Global Controversy
Unexpectedly, the Australasian crested grebe, or pūteketeke, has been named New Zealand’s Bird of the Century, a designation that has sparked disagreement and jubilation around the world. Following a fiercely contested Bird of the Year survey that saw over 350,000 votes cast from almost 200 countries, the results were delayed by two days and the voting verification system crashed.
At first viewed as a “outside contender,” the pūteketeke won thanks to a “alarmingly aggressive” campaign headed up by US talk show host John Oliver. Oliver’s passionate attempts to mobilize people in support of the endangered crested grebe caused a global uproar, garnering media attention and even gaining the bird the nickname “Lord of the Wings.”
With an estimated 3,000 of these native birds still living in the wild, the pūteketeke’s victory has come to represent concern and awareness for New Zealand’s endangered bird species worldwide. The environmental conservation group Forest and Bird has been holding the contest for almost 20 years, but unprecedented numbers of people participated in this year’s special poll.
Nicola Toki from Forest and Bird emphasized the special characteristics that helped the pūteketeke reach the top, such as its unusual look, endearing parenting style, and peculiar tendency to regurgitate. Oliver’s witty and unique campaign, combined with these qualities, won over voters all around the world.
However, John Oliver’s participation sparked debate and charges of “American meddling” in a tournament held in New Zealand. Oliver’s humorous style did not placate all locals, and counter-campaigns advocating for voters to support other birds, including the kiwi or kakariki karaka, were launched in response. Voter fraud was even witnessed during the intense contest, proving how committed and passionate the participants were.
With more than 290,000 votes, the pūteketeke was declared the victor in the end. The kiwi was far behind, finishing in second place with 12,904 votes. The fantail, kea, and kākāpō completed the top five.
Though in recent years controversy has come to be associated with the Bird of the Year competition, Nicola Toki highlighted the good thing about the increased awareness it brings to the predicament of New Zealand’s birds. The global spotlight serves as a reminder of our shared obligation to maintain and protect these rare and endangered species, with over 80% of native birds listed as threatened.
With the pūteketeke being named New Zealand’s Bird of the Century, the aim is that the increased awareness brought about by this competition would result in significant conservation and preservation efforts for the unique biodiversity of the nation.