The kea has emerged triumphant as New Zealand’s Bird of the Year. Sam Brooks is proud to introduce The Spinoff’s alternative contest: New Zealand’s Dirtbag Bird of the Year.
The kea is apparently our favourite bird of 2017. This is, depending on who you follow on Twitter, either a travesty, absolutely deserved, or a waste of everybody’s goddamned time.
I haven’t been following the Bird of the Year 2017 because birds are not actresses and vice-versa. But I look at those native birds and those aren’t the birds I know. They’re not the birds I grew up with (possibly because I grew up in the suburbs and many of these birds are endangered).
Thus, I introduce to you New Zealand’s Dirtbag Bird of the Year 2017. I have given you five choices of the most dirtbaggy bird in the country, and invite you to vote in the poll at the end of this article. They are birds that we run into every day (maybe because they were introduced to the country by people who knew nothing of what havoc they were wreaking, who can say?). You know these birds. You hate these birds. You don’t want these birds. You secretly wish you could eat these birds, just once, just to know how they taste. Just to finally take the power back.
(None of these are native birds, I believe. Maybe that’s because colonising birds are the worst and native birds have to suffer the consequences, or maybe not. Draw your own vaguely metaphorical conclusions.)
The Dirtbag Bird of the Year 2017 nominees are, in no particular order:
The swans at Western Springs Park
Swans are the horses of the bird world. They are beautiful noble creatures who absolutely hate us and have no reason to like us, and will absolutely hurt us at the first possible instance, and not because it’s their instinct but because they are making an active choice to hurt us. Because they think we deserve it.
Western Springs Park has become a warzone between swans and people, with the odd goose or duck trying to remain neutral even against their fellow bird. Western Springs Park is ostensibly run by the council, but it is actually run by the swan warlords. They linger in the water, they let us run and wander through the park in relative peace, but it is a peace that exists entirely on their terms. They let us walk, they let us run, and they never let us forget it.
Swans are a pox upon this nation, and more than any other bird on this list, I wish it was socially acceptable for us to capture, cook and feast upon their flesh.
The pigeons of Aotea Square
Some less charitable people say that birds are the rats of the sky. No bird makes this more clear than pigeons: the true rats of the sky. The ratkings of the sky.
Sometimes, on my way to work, I see a man feeding the pigeons in Aotea Square, a strange part of central Auckland’s ecosystem which is either completely full of things to do or hauntingly empty. Around 50 to 300 pigeons swarm around him and eat the birdseed he lays out for them. I fear for this man’s life, and I know the day that I don’t see this man is the day the pigeons have decided they no longer have a taste for birdseed and instead hunger for human flesh.
Sometimes, when I’m sitting outside, I am entranced by a singular pigeon. The beady eyes look like they might contain a soul. It’s a bit dirty, but not irretrievably so. The colours are quite pleasant: the green-blues, the whites, the blacks. I idly wonder what it would be like to own a pigeon.
This entrancement is usually interrupted by the disgusting noise emitting from the creature’s beak, which sounds like somebody trying not to throw up and failing at it. Then I realise that I would not like to own a pigeon. They should stay in the square, where they are safe and where I am safe from them.
You know this scene as well as any.
It’s been a hard morning at the office. You want to go outside, listen to your Beatles or your Rolling Who and have a snack. Get away from the rat race. You deserve it. So you’re sitting outside, it’s a fairly nice day, and you’re enjoying yourself. You open the packet of chips you brought from home, because you bought one of those twelve-pack ones that you’re meant to get for kids but you’ve bought them because you know if you buy a pack of normal chips you’ll eat all of them after you get home drinking one night. This is your way of controlling yourself and your drunken urges.
Then it appears.
It might only have one leg, or it might be pretending to only have one leg, because these birds have developed a terrifying knowledge of human psychology that means they know we’ll feel sorry for them if they pretend to be weaker. It looks at you with its one terrifying beady eye. It bends its neck one way. Why does it have a neck? Why does it need a neck? To what end, to what end?
You throw it a chip out of sympathy, and maybe because it’s the only affection you will get today, and it’s going to be from a creature that is barely a step, barely a shuffle, removed from a particularly shitty dinosaur. This creature launches for it. It’s now clear it has two legs and also a lot of wings and feathers and also it’s a lot bigger than you first thought it was. It might fight with another of its kind over this single chip.
And then it’ll move on, to someone else with a chip or maybe even something that doesn’t count as food but it’ll eat anyway because it doesn’t give a shit about you or what goes down its gullet. It just wants to feed. You’ll feel a bit dirty about having given away your chip. You’ll feel dirty that you got duped by this tiny white dinosaur.
You’ll go back to your office. You’ll go back to the rat race. You’ll keep buying twelve-packs of little chips. You will wonder what could have been between you and the tiny white dinosaur.
(I’m aware that the goose above is likely not a real goose, but this displays the absolute horror of a goose better than anything else I could find. I pass this horror onto you, reader.)
Look, geese have tongues, they hiss, they have teeth, and they chase you. It’s basically a snake with feathers. I don’t even know why we call it a bird.
That sparrow that always gets ‘trapped’ in the house
This little shit did it on purpose. It knows there’s no sky in here. There is only roof. It’s a bird. All it knows is two things: Things it can land on and things it can’t land on. It knows it can only land on things here, it cannot truly fly in here, it can only torture.
No, it came in here specifically because it wants to tell us that it knows we are powerless now. It can chirp and fly around and run into things and seem powerless, but ultimately it is us who are powerless to let it out. It does whatever the hell it wants.
A sparrow came into my house once, for some godforsaken reason. Our house has no windows, just a sunroof and a door. It took a good five minutes to get it out, poking and prodding at it. It chirped endlessly, and it didn’t sound to me like a chirp of fear but a chirp of victory.
I heard: “You pay rent here, but I own this place. Remember that.”
When it left, it was because it wanted to, not the other way around.
This is a godless creature.
Bonus Braunias Bird: The skua
This is a last minute entry from The Spinoff’s resident bird expert, Mr. Steve Braunias:
“The skua, found at Scott Base, NZ’s territory on Antarctica. It feeds on baby Adelie penguins. Its favoured approach is to eat it alive from behind. It does this in vast numbers. I have seen this … very disturbing.”
Yet another foul and godless creature.
The Bird of the Year is a very cool thing that serves to raise awareness of native birds, you can visit their site here and donate here, because lots of our native birds are in danger and should be preserved.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.