Mighty moss chicken’ brought back from brink of extinction is the first two-time winner. With an owl-like face, pot belly and duck-waddling gait, the kākāpō is one of the most distinctive birds roaming the Earth. The feathery creature has now been named New Zealand’s Bird of the Year for an unprecedented second time.
It can’t fly and it hides during the day but a critically endangered large parrot is back in the limelight having been named New Zealand’s bird of the year for an unprecedented second time. The green and fawn kākāpō – the world’s heaviest, longest-living parrot – first won in 2008. After conservation efforts, the population of this large parrot has risen from 50 during the 1990s to 213 now.
Kākāpō – a bird also known as “mighty moss chicken” – used to live throughout Aotearoa, but today survive only on predator-free islands. Male kākāpō emit a loud booming sound to attract females and smell “like the inside of a clarinet case, musty and kind of like resin and wood,” said Laura Keown, spokesperson for the competition. “The things that make kākāpō unique also make them vulnerable to threats. They are slow breeders, they nest on the ground and their main defence is to imitate a shrub. “Those qualities worked great in the island of birds the kākāpō evolved in but they don’t fool introduced predators like stoats, rats and cats.”
Another endangered bird, the antipodean albatross, which is often caught in fishing nets, won most first-choice votes out of the more than 55,000 votes cast but under the competition’s preferential system the kākāpō came through. Organisers said they hoped the antipodean albatross did not feel robbed. The competition has boosted environmental awareness, organisers said, compared with 15 years ago when bird of the year started “It is definitely part of a shift in thinking about the needs of New Zealand’s unique environment and native species.” It has also introduced the public to some weird and wonderful characters. The world’s most famous k ākāpō is Sirocco, who reputedly thinks he is human after a respiratory illness meant he became the first male to be hand reared.
Aged 23 – scientists believe kākāpō can live for around 60 years – Sirocco has toured New Zealand to promote the plight of his species. In 2009, he rocketed to global fame after attempting to mate with zoologist Mark Carwardine’s head during filming for the BBC documentary Last Chance to See with British actor Stephen Fry, who likened the bird’s face to that of a Victorian gentleman. The video of the incident – with commentary from Fry: “He’s really going for it!” – has had more than 18m views.
No stranger to scandal, the competition this year involved the endorsement by an adult toy store of the polyamorous hihi, or stitchbird, and voter fraud. Volunteer scrutineers found 1,500 votes cast one night were from the same IP address, all for the smallest kiwi species, the kiwi pukupuku or little spotted kiwi.
Entrants could vote for up to five birds, ranking them in order of choice. This year’s poll was pushed back to avoid a clash with New Zealand’s parliamentary election. Under the last Labour-Green government, the Department of Conservation – the government agency in charge of looking after native species – received the biggest funding boost it has had in 15 years. The government has promised to put cameras on all commercial fishing boats, and New Zealand has a goal to be predator free by 2050.