Pūteketeke crowned Bird of the Century

10:49 am on 15 November 2023
A pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe on a nest at Te Anau.

A pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe on a nest at Te Anau. Photo: Supplied / Oscar Thomas

With a majority of the votes, the pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe has been crowned Bird of the Century.

There was fierce competition for the title, that even saw TAHI and RNZ presenter Evie Orpe become embroiled in an ornithological stoush with US talkshow host John Oliver.

Oliver's campaign saw ads in Paris, Mumbai, Tokyo and London, and flying a banner over Ipanema beach in Brazil. As if coverage on his own show Last Week Tonight wasn't enough, he even made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon in full-on grebe garb.

His campaign led to the system crashing.

Oliver's pick? The winning bird, the pūteketeke.

"Pūteketeke began as an outside contender for Bird of the Century but was catapulted to the top spot thanks to its unique looks, adorable parenting style, and propensity for puking," Forest and Bird chief executive Nicola Toki said.

"We're not surprised these charming characteristics caught the eye of an influential bird enthusiast with a massive following."

"John Oliver's wish for a landslide victory did come true," Forest and Bird's Ellen Rykers told Morning Report.

It could only be a good thing that Oliver has ignited huge conversation about our native birds, Rykers said.

The North Island brown kiwi was in second place and the kea was third.

New Zealanders were keen to defend their competition and flocked to vote. There was a record 350,000+ verified votes from 195 countries this year, surpassing the previous record of 56,733 verified votes.

Forty-five of this year's verifed votes were under the name John Oliver, with just one vote made for the fairy tern, the rest unsurprisingly were for the pūteketeke.

Thousands of fraudulent votes were discounted. One person even voted 40,000 times for the tawaki piki toka eastern rockhopper penguin.

A shot from US comedian John Oliver's segment on New Zealand's Bird of the Year.

A shot from US comedian John Oliver's segment on New Zealand's Bird of the Year on 5 November 2023. Photo: Screengrab

With its burnt orange mullet, striking plumage and propensity for puking, the pūteketeke is clasified as 'nationally vulnerable'. There are thought to be fewer than 1000 of them in Aotearoa, up from just 200 in the 1980s.

Their recovery is in part thanks to efforts like the Lake Wānaka Grebe Project, after Forest and Bird member John Darby built a floating nesting platform ten years ago.

More than 80 percent of native birds are on the threatened species list.

"Pending cuts to the Department of Conservation, the agency tasked with protecting these taonga under threat, are a huge worry. The world is watching us and how we look after our birds," Toki said.

Pair of pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe.

A pair of pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe. Photo: Supplied / Leanne Buchan Photography

The top 10 winners:

  • Australasian crested grebe - pūteketeke: 290,374 votes
  • North Island brown kiwi: 12,904 votes
  • Kea: 12,060 votes
  • Kākāpō: 10,889 votes
  • Fantail: 7857 votes
  • Eastern rockhopper penguin:6763 votes
  • Black robin: 6753 votes
  • Huia: 6467 votes
  • Tūī: 6457 votes
  • Takahē: 6292 votes

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