National | Birds

A one-of-a-kind moment for one of Aotearoa’s lesser-known native birds

An American talk show host has driven the Bird of The Century competition to new heights.

Comedian John Oliver, who hosts the TV show, Last Week Tonight on HBO, jumped on board to promote the Pūteketeke as his choice for the Aotearoa competition.

Also known as the Australasian Crested Grebe, the Pūteketeke has caught the attention of people around the world who have fallen for the bird and Oliver’s campaign.

“We knew that there would be some interest, and John Oliver and his team got in touch with us earlier this year, and asked if they could participate and we said ‘Go for it’,” Forest and Bird chief executive Nicola Toki says.

“Last time I looked this morning, 60,000 votes have come in for the Pūteketeke, and significant donations as well, which we’re very grateful for because that allows us to go out and do more work.”

Toki says 82% of native birds are endangered, so there is a benefit in this kind of promotion of our native birds to create awareness for those in the country.

‘Interfering in foreign elections’

“It’s a little reminder to people, that yes, we love this stuff but we’ve got to keep a close eye on it and keep doing the mahi to protect it,” she says.

In this week’s episode of his show Last Week Tonight, Oliver explained he was so passionate about the result of the “intense” competition, he had launched an “alarmingly aggressive” global campaign.

This included billboards near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, a bright neon cartoon advert on Tokyo’s busiest intersection, billboards on a store in Mumbai and on the side of a roving truck in London, as well as a ‘Lord of the Wings’ poster on a bus shelter in Auckland and an airborne banner flown above Ipanema Beach in Brazil.

The bird was deserving of recognition, he explained, with its existence under threat, and estimates of fewer than 1000 of them left in New Zealand.

Oliver pointed out voting required only a valid email address, which he said meant overseas voters had a shot at stacking the competition:

“Last year’s rock wren won with 2894 votes - I’m pretty sure we can beat that.

“We are going all out for this bird. I don’t just want the pūteketeke to win, I want it to win in the biggest landslide in the history of this magnificent competition. After all, this is what democracy is all about - America interfering in foreign elections.”

No kākāpō

But one of Aotearoa’s more beloved birds and two-time winner of the Bird of the Year competition, the kākāpō has not found a place in this year’s Bird of the Century competition.

“We just made a call last year that we were going to boot it out, because we were sick of it winning, and particularly we wanted to give some of our lesser-known birds,” Toki says.

New Zealand birds are again soaring in this competition, and Forest and Bird is also looking to remember those that have gone extinct in the past 100 years such as the Huia, and Whēkau by placing them in the contest.

“It is crucial because they are part of the web that defines life in New Zealand and a poignant reminder that we can’t afford to lose our vigilance on protecting our natural world here in New Zealand or we risk losing those birds.”

Voting is still open for Bird of the Century on the Forest and Bird website.

- with reporting from the NZ Herald