Pūteketeke Crowned Bird of the Century 2023.. with a Little Celebrity Interference

The pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe has won Bird of the Century 2023. 

/Forest & Bird (forestandbird.org.nz)
The pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe has won Bird of the Century 2023. /Forest & Bird (forestandbird.org.nz)
In a historic two-week battle of the birds, the Pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe has emerged victorious as the Bird of the Century for 2023.

With its distinctive burnt-orange mullet and quirky dance moves, the native lake bird captured the hearts of bird enthusiasts worldwide, securing an impressive 290,374 votes.

Forest & Bird chief executive, Nicola Toki, expressed surprise at the Pūteketeke’s rise to fame, citing its unique looks, adorable parenting style, and even its tendency to regurgitate as winning characteristics. The bird’s unexpected journey to the top was fueled by an influential endorsement from British-American comedian John Oliver, who launched an “alarmingly aggressive” campaign on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.

Oliver’s Bird of the Century campaign featured billboards in Paris and Tokyo, culminating in a dramatic appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where he donned full grebe attire. The spectacle prompted New Zealanders to turn out in force at the polls, leading to an unprecedented voting surge and a record-breaking 350,000+ verified votes from 195 countries.

Despite the Pūteketeke’s victory, the surge in voting led to a temporary crash of the verification system, causing a two-day delay in the winner announcement. Forest & Bird, channeling the speed of the kārearea New Zealand falcon, diligently sorted through the votes to ensure accuracy.

The Pūteketeke’s triumph was not without controversy, with allegations of “American interference” sparking a spirited response from New Zealanders. Media outlets and local campaign managers rallied to support other bird species, turning the unexpected turn of events into a showcase of passion, creativity, and debate.

Ms. Toki emphasized the importance of preserving New Zealand’s diverse bird species, especially considering that over 80% of native birds are on the threatened species list. Pending cuts to the Department of Conservation, responsible for safeguarding these taonga under threat, raise concerns about the future of bird conservation in the country.

The Pūteketeke itself faces challenges as a “Nationally Vulnerable” species, with a population of fewer than 1,000 birds in New Zealand and Australia combined. However, conservation efforts, such as the Lake Wānaka Grebe Project, have contributed to the bird’s slow recovery, emphasizing the positive impact of community-led initiatives.

In celebration of the Bird of the Century victory, here is the top 10 list of birds that captivated the hearts of voters:

1. **Pūteketeke Australasian Crested Grebe:** 290,374 votes
2. **North Island Brown Kiwi:** 12,904 votes
3. **Kea:** 12,060 votes
4. **Kākāpō:** 10,889 votes
5. **Pīwakawaka Fantail:** 7,857 votes
6. **Tawaki Piki Toka Eastern Rockhopper Penguin:** 6,763 votes
7. **Karure | Kakaruia Black Robin:** 6,753 votes
8. **Huia:** 6,467 votes
9. **Tūī:** 6,457 votes
10. **Takahē:** 6,292 votes

Each of these birds, in its own way, contributed to the vibrant tapestry of New Zealand’s avian diversity. The Bird of the Century competition not only celebrated the Pūteketeke’s triumph but also highlighted the urgent need for continued conservation efforts to protect these treasured species for future generations.


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