Podcast: The Detail

Claws out for Bird of the Year 2019

The Detail today looks at the serious environmental message behind the increasingly popular Bird of the Year competition.

Voting has opened for the most fiercely contested election of the year.

Stand down politicians, the claws are out for Bird of the Year. The Forest & Bird competition already has the international media circling after a drunken pigeon (kererū) won last year’s title.

Previous years have been blighted (or you might argue, enhanced) by stacked voting, demands to include extinct species, and furious social media posts.

“It’s wild out there!” says F&B’s Megan Hubscher. “It’s no holds barred.”

She says the efforts to cheat, and the intense campaigning is an indication of how New Zealanders love their birds.

There’s no prize for the bird crowned most popular … “but in seriousness,” says Hubscher, “the environment is the winner. I guess the message behind Bird of the Year is for people to get out and speak up for nature. Last year we had close to 50,000 people voting for Bird of the Year and that’s a really serious message for people who are in charge of looking after New Zealand’s natural world, is that there is a huge number of people out there who really do care about this stuff. And they’re willing to get online, make a bit of noise, and they’re not going to stand by and watch things go downhill.

“And New Zealand does have a problem with that. Three-quarters of our native birds are heading for extinction. So that’s serious, and I think it’s really hopeful and really heartening that New Zealanders get behind Bird of the Year so intensely. We don’t want those birds to disappear, we want them to be around for the future and for future generations to enjoy.

“That’s the serious message behind a pretty fun competition.”

The competition started 14 years ago with a pull-out in Forest & Bird’s magazine where you ticked a box and posted the form back. Now it’s morphed into an online highlight. (Search for #BirdoftheYear).

“One of my favourites … is the campaign managers for the bittern which run on a policy platform of being introverted, so their tweets … they’re kind of anti-Twitter, on Twitter .. I find them kind of hilarious,” she says.

“And it’s not just Twitter, it’s Instagram, it’s Facebook, you name it ... there’s a TikTok account running.”

Hubscher believes there’s been a heightened sense of awareness of issues such as sedimentation and coastal development, which will affect birds such as fairy terns and dotterels. People are also learning more about the danger of cats in native bird situations, and to keep dogs on leashes around penguins.

“We build cities where these birds live, so we’ve got to make room for them,” she says. “If we want them around we have to make sure there’s space for these animals to exist as well. And that means looking after them – really taking actions that are going to help.”

To vote for your five favourites, go to birdoftheyear.org.nz.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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