The path to choosing a leader is never simple and as the close of an election looms, tensions can rise. The same, it seems, is true for New Zealand's annual Bird of the Year event. Having run for 15 years, what began as a light-hearted competition celebrating the country’s rich diversity of bird species has gathered momentum over time, giving rise to a spate of well-humored but fiercely fought debates as to which should take home the title.
In a world that is still reeling from the outcome of Fat Bear Week 2020 (you were robbed, Chunk), the event will no doubt reignite animal enthusiasts who could perhaps use some light relief from the other election. Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau 2020 will run from November 2-15 and asks you to vote for your top five favorite birds native to New Zealand.
Across its two islands, New Zealand is home to a rich variety of flightless and flying birds but perhaps most famous of all has to be the kiwi. These brown fuzzballs run on their two legs across the forest floor but have been pushed to near-extinction in the past as they came under attack from ground-dwelling and invasive predators.
Unfortunately, endangered species is a theme that underpins the competition as the organizers highlight that currently 75 percent of land birds and 90 percent of seabirds are threatened or at risk of extinction in New Zealand. From climate change to habitat destruction there are a host of reasons to explain the birds’ “In some trouble” labels, but by celebrating their existence the competition hopes to fuel conservation efforts that could see their most endangered nominees saved from an uncertain future.
Voting is open all week, closing on Sunday, November 15, so be sure to vote and make your voice heard. Last year’s victor was the yellow-eyed penguin, known also as hoiho or tarakaka, which is endemic to New Zealand. Other worthy winners include the kererū, kōkako, and perhaps the country’s most lovable vandals, keas.
However, just because it's New Zealand doesn't mean the election hasn't had its fair share of scandals over the years. Previous years have seen slander campaigns against other participants, voter fraud, and even accusations of Russian interference.
As the competition heats up, so too do tempers.
There are five notable events to date in its history that triggered the organizers to bring in an independent scrutineer from Dragonfly Data Science to prevent further voting scandals. Over the years the competition has seen nominated birds taking to Twitter, Tinder, and Facebook to fight their corner. Let’s just hope proceedings can stay above board this year.