There’s bad news for those hoping to crown — yet again — the kākāpō as New Zealand’s “Bird of the Year”: The flightless bird, also known as the world’s fattest parrot, isn’t in the running this year.
World’s fattest parrot can’t compete for New Zealand’s ‘Bird of the Year’
“The kākāpō has already won twice,” Rykers told The Washington Post. “And while he’s definitely a fan favorite, we want to make sure that we’re able to give attention to other birds that tend to get overlooked. It will be a brief hiatus, though, not a complete barring.”
In other words: Think of it as a term limit of sorts.
New Zealand aims to save the ‘strangest parrot on Earth’
Forest & Bird, a New Zealand-based conservation organization, has been running the “Bird of the Year” since 2005 as a way to raise awareness for native New Zealand bird species that may be threatened with extinction or whose populations are in low numbers , Rykers said. Anyone around the world is able to participate by casting online votes for their top five birds.
In the past 17 years, though, it has turned into a full-blown electoral race — with people signing up as campaign managers for each bird and masterminding creative ways to get votes. In recent years, for example, campaign managers have strutted down streets in penguin costumes or urged their Tinder matches to vote for their favorite bird, Rykers said.
And just like other — perhaps, higher-stakes — elections, “Bird of the Year” has faced a string of scandals. In 2018, fraudulent votes were cast in Australia for the shag. The next year, a large number of Russian votes sparked rumors of election meddling, though they were later deemed legitimate. And then last year, “Bird of the Year” went to … a bat. The reason for that, Rykers said, was linguistics — the name of the reads competition slightly differently in Māori , the language of the Indigenous people of New Zealand.
“The translation for ‘Bird of the Year’ in Māori is ‘Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau.’ The word ‘manu’ doesn’t just refer to birds. It refers to any creature with wings,” she explained.
Hundreds of fraudulent votes were discovered. Then a fat green parrot was elected.
Rykers said Forest & Bird doesn’t want its competition to rank among the recent rash of cheating scandals happening in chess, Irish dancing, fishing and even Bear Week. They’re requiring email-verified votes and have systems to check for unique IP addresses . The first step toward fairness, for better or for worse, was barring the kākāpō.
Now that the chunky, bright-green parrot isn’t an option, here are some of the other birds you can vote for starting Oct. 17.
If charismatic birds are your thing
Some birds just operate like humans. Take the kererū: a pigeon with iridescent feathers and a mad obsession for berries. Occasionally their fruit of choice will be fermented — nature’s version of wine — making them a tad too tipsy to fly and prone to falling from trees.
The hākoakoa, or subantarctic skua, is the bird equivalent of a pirate, Rykers said. While on land, they love harassing other birds and eating their chicks. But in the sky, they’ll get into high-speed chases with other large birds in pursuit of a fine bounty of regurgitated food.
The takahē was thought to be extinct for decades — only to come back to life “as a juice extractor on legs,” Rykers said. These “rainbow chickens” turn grass into juice, and their chicks look like itty-bitty, black fluffballs.
If you’re rooting for birds on the edge of extinction
In New Zealand, some birds have made it out of the danger zone, but others are still fighting for the survival of their species. For instance, the tūturuatu, or shore plover, is known for its love of dramatics — often fluttering its wings or pretending to cry to save its babies from a predator. There are only 250 of these little drama queens left.
The South Island kōkako hadn’t been seen in the wild since 1967, so it was declared extinct. However, in 2007, someone recorded a bird call that was remarkably similar to the kōkako’s. Now nicknamed “the grey ghost,” it has inspired missions to prove it’s still out there, somewhere.
There are about 144 Southern New Zealand dotterels, or Tūturiwhatu, left in existence, Rykers said. During non-mating seasons, the little birds’ plumage is white or slightly off-white. But when it’s breeding season, the feathers in their chest area turn a rusty shade of red.
If you’re into birds with interesting features
The king of crazy hairdos is none other than the Rockhopper penguin. With their yellow, spiky crest, these penguins made money pieces cool before they were a thing. Another penguin with a cool ‘do: the Tawaki, or Fiordland crested penguin. Though their crest is slightly more tamed, one of its names means “gleaming head” in Māori. They’re also the only penguins to live in the rainforest.
The tākapu, or Australasian gannet, has nostrils in its mouth and eyes that can change shapes. It also has bubble-wrap-type tissue on its face and chest. Why? Because it needs something to cushion the blow when it divebombs into the water .
The beak of a Royal Spoonbill, or Kōtuku ngutupapa, looks like it was squished down in a sandwich press. The spatula-shaped feature allows it to hunt for crabs and other crustaceans in shallow waters. (It also has a bit of a crest on its head.)
The competition’s stakes are low, but the fun is big. The winner becomes “the ultimate bird influencer” and will inspire a line of merchandise, Rykers said. The winner will be announced Oct. 31.