Bird of the Century: Pūteketeke wins title after heated contest, delayed results, John Oliver intervention

Pūteketeke has won the title of Forest and Bird's Bird of the Century. 

The delayed result was finally revealed on Wednesday morning after an "unprecedented" number of votes were cast in the poll. 

Forest and Bird revealed the results at 8am on Wednesday morning, saying over 350,000 verified votes from 195 countries were cast, which made it the biggest Bird of the Year competition. The previous record was 56,733 verified votes in 2021.

Pūteketeke Photo credit: Peter Foulds

Following the announcement, Forest and Bird revealed the top 10 species and how many votes each received.

The pūteketeke received 290,374 votes, significantly in front of its competitors. The North Island brown kiwi came in second with 12,904 votes – 277,470 votes behind the pūteketeke. The kea came in third with 12,060 votes. Rounding out the top five was the kākāpō in fourth and the fantail in fifth.

But not all the votes were verified with Forest and Bird revealing thousands of fraudulent votes had been discarded during the vote counting process.

This included 40,000 votes cast by a single person for the tawaki piki toka/eastern rockhopper penguin. Forest and Bird said this individual appears to have been inspired by the rockhopper appearing on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

"Despite Oliver’s dismissal of the 'hipster penguin’, this was the most popular second-choice bird among those who voted for the pūteketeke," Forest and Bird said in a statement.

Another person from Pennsylvania in the US cast 3403 fraudulent votes, with one arriving every three seconds.

Forest and Bird also said 45 valid votes were cast by people giving the name John Oliver, all for the pūteketeke except one, which was for the New Zealand fairy tern.

Bird of the Century spokesperson Ellen Rykers has applauded the worldwide interest in the competition, telling AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green the contest is "absolutely worth it" to help grow conservation awareness.

Bird of the Century spokesperson Ellen Rykers.
Bird of the Century spokesperson Ellen Rykers. Photo credit: AM

"It's quite difficult to draw a causal relationship between a vote for Bird of the Year and more birds on the ground because conservation is really complicated, but I think it contributes in a few different ways," she said.

"First of all, we don't care about what we don't know about. So being able to talk about these birds is really important for raising awareness.

"But also, we hear from individuals and communities who are inspired to start trapping in their communities, businesses who want to change how they do things because it's beautiful biodiversity and also just demonstrating to our decision makers that, hey, New Zealand does care a lot about birds and we need the investment to protect them."

Rykers told AM she is a "big fan" of the winning bird's mating dances, adding: "I am definitely a big fan of their courtship dances, which have a range of different moves from headshaking, which of course shows off their beautiful sort of mullet I guess you could call it and also the move where they kind of bump chests, which is known as the ghostly penguin."

Last week, American TV host John Oliver launched an "alarmingly aggressive" campaign for pūteketeke to win Bird of the Century, which involved billboards in countries across the world - and caused the Forest and Bird website to crash when he rallied thousands of people to submit their vote.  

On Friday, Forest and Bird said a "massive influx" of votes had led to its email authentication team being stretched, with the planned winner announcement pushed back from Monday. 

Voting closed at 5pm Sunday, November 12. Forest and Bird normally run a Bird of the Year competition, but this year it took a step up as the organisation looked to find the Bird of the Century to celebrate its 100th year. There were 75 bird species up for the title. 

Not everyone had been happy at Oliver's involvement in the campaign, even though it was revealed he'd approached the organisers, signalling his intent to launch a campaign for the pūteketeke to emerge victorious. 

Scott McNab, chief revenue officer at RealNZ, told Newshub Nation on Saturday he was not a fan of people "bringing controversy into these types of things". 

"It feels like it's a little bit like the Australian Underarm [bowling] incident where they've found a loophole in the rules and they're looking to exploit it." 

Kiwi campaigner Erin Reilly called Oliver's campaign "fowl play"

"[He's] a B- grade American celebrity coming out and essentially high-jacking Bird of the Century," she said. "I don't even think he likes birds."  

"When you think of New Zealand you think of the kiwi. We are literally 'Kiwis'." 

Oliver used the closing moments of the latest episode of his satirical news show on Sunday (US time) to address the backlash from Aotearoa and to take pot-shots at some of New Zealand's most iconic birds. 

He called the kiwi a 'rat carrying a toothpick', while claiming he "loves" Aotearoa.   

He also said the kiwi looked like 'Donkey Kong's hairy testicle", before taking aim at the kererū, which he described as a "pigeon in a tanktop".  

The pīwauwau [New Zealand rock wren] won last year with 2900 votes.

Top 10 and how many votes:

  1. Australasian crested grebe - 290374
  2. North Island brown kiwi - 12904
  3. Kea - 12060
  4. Kākāpō - 10889
  5. Fantail - 7857
  6. Eastern rockhopper penguin - 6763
  7. Black robin - 6753
  8. Huia - 6467
  9. Tūī - 6457
  10. Takahē - 6292