Can a bat enter a bird competition? The jury's out for New Zealand's Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau Bird of the Year competition, as a new entry for 2021 has, ahem, ruffled some feathers.
There are thousands of animal competitions that occur annually, some serious, others less so. America's Fat Bear Week and New Zealand’s Bird of the Year competition are two that sit somewhere been both categories, intended as a bit of fun to celebrate some of Earth’s most fascinating creatures, but also as a way of raising awareness about their struggles and how we can help.
While healthy competition is encouraged in the name of good humor, we as a species just love to get riled up and it seems this trait has got many of New Zealand’s bird competition fans in a flap as a new competitor has joined the roster for 2021. The “offending” entry is the long-tailed bat, pekapeka-tou-roa (Chalinolobus tuberculatus), a species native to New Zealand.
While the flying mammal is, undeniably, not a bird, it does have something in common with many of the contest’s regular competitors. Like many of New Zealand’s native winged species, the pekapeka-tou-roa is critically endangered. Having once been common across the country, there are now so few that experts don’t even have an estimate for their population size. At risk from habitat loss and introduced predators, they could certainly stand to benefit from having their story shared.
As for the alleged consternation, Bird of the Year simply wouldn’t be the annual bird-off we’ve all come to know and love without a bit of scandal. Previous years have seen accusations of slander campaigns, voter fraud, and even international interference. Pekapeka-tou-roa taking the title would be but a drop in the competition’s spilt tea.
So, still got an issue with a bat featuring in a bird competition? Campaign manager Peter Wills has got a mouthful for you.
“After winning Bat of the Year too many times to count, pekapeka-tou-roa are ready to step up to the plate,” he boasted on the pekapeka-tou-roa’s bio page on the Bird of the Year website.
“Pekapeka are more bird-like than wannabirds in this competition. Saying this may ruffle some feathers but can any of our flagship species fly? Pekapeka are deservedly manu. In New Zealand we believe in the underbird. We believe in the little fly. We believe that where you come from doesn't have to determine your future. Pekapeka-tou-roa, it's your time to rise up and grow our understanding of manu. Koia nei te houanga o pekapeka-tou-roa!”
Perhaps “bird” is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and judging by this flappy chappy’s winged lifestyle, we’re sold.
Bring on the battle of the birds (and bat)!