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Design: Tina Tiller
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SocietyOctober 28, 2022

Bird of the Year: The informed voter’s guide

Design: Tina Tiller
Design: Tina Tiller

Local government elections may be over, but there’s one more vote you need to make this year. Tara Ward shortlists the candidates for Bird of the Year 2022.

Voting for Te Manu Rongonui o te Tau/Bird of the Year closes this Sunday, which means you have two more sleeps to make the biggest decision of your life. The annual campaign run by Forest & Bird aims to raise awareness of our endangered natural wildlife, and while it’s not clear what the prize is – hopefully another year of not being extinct – the competition is no stranger to controversy. Last year’s winner was a bat. Jacinda Ardern once called the black petrel “a bogan”, and this year, popular two time winner Kākāpō has been banned from the competition due to our nation’s unyielding soft spot for fat parrots.

Now it’s our chance to have our say. Earlier this week Rock Wren was leading the pack, but Forest & Bird have shortlisted over seventy birdy candidates who’ll do anything for the popular vote. It’s democracy at its finest, but this year, Forest & Bird are breaking every electoral commission rule by encouraging the public to vote for a group of contenders called the Underbirds. Underbirds may be less well-known than a fat parrot, but apparently they are just as exciting. You should see them after a few Fantas. Absolute scenes.

But like every good election, the last people you should listen to are the experts. We’ve put together our own Bird of the Year race briefing that covers the more notable candidates in this year’s campaign, so that you’re fully informed before exercising your democratic bird rights. It’s what Kate Sheppard would have wanted, so let’s do this, New Zealand.

Ruru – Morepork

No pressure (Photo: Creative Commons)

The ruru only comes out at night, and is still getting over being endorsed by Phil Goff back in 2011. This introvert won’t ask your vote, but will quietly demand it by staring deep into your soul while swallowing its prey whole. Choose wisely.

Matuku – Bittern

Nice, once you get to know them (Photo: Forest & Bird)

Forest & Bird describes this bird as “heavy-set”, which seems a bit harsh, but that’s the least of our worries. The official campaign photo shows Matuku chewing on an eel and giving zero fucks about it, so make no mistake, a vote for Matuku will make a meal of us all. Probably doesn’t give a shit about the arts; may stick your photo on a urinal and piss on it. You’ve been warned.

Karure / Kakaruia – Black robin

Lil fella (Photo: Getty Images)

Back in primary school when my teacher had given up for the day, they would unroll the projector screen and make us watch a film about the black robin being saved from extinction. This astonishing level of fame among bored children of the 1980s is something few birds will ever know, but be wary about voting for a celebrity, no matter how heroic. Also, all remaining black robins are related to each other. Love to see it.

Rockhopper Penguin

The bad boy of bird Brexit (Photo: Getty Images)

The messy hair, stooped posture and tendency to quote Shakespeare at inappropriate moments confirms Lord Rockhopper is a staunch admirer of the Boris Johnson school of politics. Also reported to be a fan of free parking in the CBD on Sundays. A complicated beast.

Tarapirohe – Black-fronted tern

Loves the national anthem too (Photo: Forest & Bird / Glenda Wilson)

Territorial as hell and prone to dive-bomb intruders. Questionable views about migration aside, you won’t find a more patriotic New Zealander than this bird with a black cap for a head. Stephen Fleming loves it more than his heat pump.


Ready to win. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Having won the title in 2017, Kea returns to feast upon Bird of the Year’s juicy carcass once more, this time promising a “transformative” reign. Some say Kea is the Trevor Mallard of the bird world (slightly rude, loves a bit of Barry Manilow), while others report David Seymour’s Dancing with the Stars NZ fluoro outfit was a tribute to Kea’s spectacular plumage. Both rumours were traced directly back to Kea, proving this bird is determined to put the lol back into local politics.

Pīwauwau – Rock Wren

Rock on (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

The Pīwauwau weighs less than an AA battery, which is very light. You know what else is light? This bird’s position on rate reforms, and don’t get it started on inadequate library funding. Still, if Rod Stewart can rock the dock, we can rock the wren.

Kororā – Little penguin

Littler than a 1.5l Coke bottle (Photo: Getty Images)

Goes to work from dawn to dusk. Turns up to every event they’re invited to, as well as the ones they’re not. Big fan of public transport, and often seen on the weekends around the Wellington coast wearing a black beret and drinking flat whites. Allegedly rides the Cable Car without a ticket. Make of that what you will.

Kōkā – South Island kōkako

Missing you (Photo: Forest & Bird)

Much like chunky highlights and thin eyebrows, the Kōkā has not been seen since 2007. This is taking things a bit far, even for a South Islander. A vote for Kōkā is a vote for the next season of The Masked Singer, when Kōkā will be revealed as the voice behind a singing crayfish who just belted out a powerful rendition of Proud Mary. Be the change you want to see, New Zealand.

Tūturuatu – Shore plover

Won’t let you down (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

A drama queen who turns on the tears to distract predators from her chicks. Some say she’s too emotional for politics, but to them, we say “live, love, laugh”. Tūturuatu is on every committee that will take her, and frankly she doesn’t even have time to be Bird of the Year, what with her petition to lower the speed limit outside the local kindergarten really starting to take off. Fine, she’ll do it, for the kids. For the future. For you too, you lazy bird-loving bastards.

Voting for Te Manu Rongonui o te Tau/Bird of the Year closes on Sunday 30 October at 5pm.

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