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New Zealand crowns ‘bird of the century’ championed by John Oliver


By Heather Chen, CNN

(CNN) — The votes are in for New Zealand’s Bird of the Century poll and the winner by a significant margin, getting more than 290,000 votes, is the Australasian crested grebe, better known as the pūteketeke or the ‘puking’ bird championed by comedian and talk show host John Oliver.

“It began as an outside contender but was catapulted to the top spot thanks to its unique looks, adorable parenting style and propensity for puking,” wrote conservation charity Forest and Bird in a statement on Wednesday local time announcing the results.

New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, came in second with 12,904 votes while the kea, a species of large parrot often described as one of the most intelligent birds in the world, landed in third with 12,060 votes.

“We’re not surprised these charming characteristics caught the eye of an influential bird enthusiast with a massive following,” the group said, referring to HBO host Oliver’s “high powered campaign,” which caused online voting systems to crash.

Originally launched in 2005, the annual competition aims to raise awareness about New Zealand’s native birds, many species of which are threatened, on the brink of extinction or already extinct due to habitat loss and human activity.

But it has also stirred controversy in recent years with allegations of “voter fraud” in 2020 and by crowning a bat the winner the following year.

“Pūteketeke deserve to be Bird of the Century in 2023 because their numbers have been slowly increasing… It’s great to have a successful bird as an ambassador for all New Zealand birds to show that even threatened species can bounce back if we give them a hand,” the group added.

They are water birds native to New Zealand and have been known to make strange noises like barking, growling and clicking. They are characterized by their distinctive plummage, alternating black and white feathers with colored head plummes.

Young pūteketeke are also capable of swimming and diving even after newly hatching.

The bird were almost hunted to extinction in the United Kingdom during the 19th century and are still under threat today, conservationists say.

“There are thought to be fewer than 1,000 birds and the species is also not faring well in Australia,” said Forest and Bird, noting that their numbers across Australia and New Zealand were estimated to be less than 3,000.

To help spread the message and raise awareness, Oliver bought up billboards in New Zealand, Japan and the state of Wisconsin. “The Lord of the Wings,” read one, playing on New Zealand’s notoriety as being the filming location for the Lord of the Rings movies.

“No bird on earth is more deserving of Bird of the Century than this one,” Oliver said on his show. He also appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon dressed in a pūteketeke costume.

“They are weird puking birds with colourful mullets. What’s not to love here?”

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