The Bird of the Year will again over the next two weeks spark furious debate and excitement as the votes pile in for the feathered crown.
The event running, which has been running since 2005, has a knack for always attracting headlines – and this year is no different.
Controversy has already struck amid Forest and Bird New Zealand’s decision to exclude two-time winner the kākāpō from this year’s rundown.
“We know how much people love kākāpō and I’m a real kākāpō fan, but ultimately the competition is about raising awareness,” Forest and Bird spokesperson Ellen Rykers tells the Front Page podcast.
“We want to keep things fresh and interesting and really share the love for birds, some of which are overlooked and under-appreciated. We want to sign the spotlight on some other potential celebrity birds.”
Last year, controversy also followed the event when the ultimate winner ended up being a pekapeka-tou-roa, or long-tailed bat. There were no bats included this year, but Rykers hasn’t closed the door entirely on the flying mammals making a reappearance in the future.
“We always like to shake things up, so who knows what will happen in future competitions. We actually used a loophole of Manu, the Māori word for bird, which generally means winged creature. We could slip in the pekapeka that way. It was awesome to see New Zealanders really get behind the pekapeka and elect it as our champion.”
While the pekapeka will not return to defend its crown, Rykers says there will be plenty of opportunity for New Zealanders to become acquainted with interesting avian contenders this year.
“We’ve come up with a list of 21 what we’re calling ‘underbirds’. These are birds that are often threatened with extinction and just need a bit of love and attention.”
For some of these birds, it’s going down to the wire.
Rykers points to the southern New Zealand dotterel, of which only 144 remain in the wild.
“There are some species that are absolutely on the brink of extinction. And we need efforts from every corner to save these special species.
Rykers says that despite the possibility of extinction being very real for many birds, there is still hope.
“Some of these species were in even worse positions before. Take the Kakī for example – while there are only a few hundred now, it was in the tens in the 1980s and 1990s. It has taken so much effort to grow these populations by this small amount. It’s super important that we try to halt any declines in any other species, so we don’t end up in that situation for other species.”
This is part of the reason why Forest and Bird continues to push the Bird of the Year competition so hard every time it rolls around.
“You only care about what you know about,” says Rykers.
“Bird of the Year is really about trying to highlight some of those species and bring them to people’s attention and show them how cool they are.”
• The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.