Bird of the Year: Who will you vote for?

First written in October 2015. 

Have you voted yet? Every year, Forest & Bird runs the New Zealand Bird of the Year comp. The aim is to raise awareness of the amazing avian species we have here in NZ, and to promote their conservation.

So who will you vote for? Here are some fully rad options for you:

KEA  (Nestor notabilis)

This “clown of the mountains” is the world’s only alpine parrot. Fave pastimes include eating cars, locking hikers in back country huts and being general cheeky bastards. These guys are very intelligent – they can solve logic puzzles and have been recorded using tools. Kea were once hunted for bounty due to their badass destructive antics, but they now have full protection. Sadly, they’ve become endangered. Visit the Kea Conservation Trust for more info, or like them on Facebook.

Image by Daniel Pietzsch (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Image by Daniel Pietzsch (CC BY-NC 2.0).

KĀKĀPŌ  (Strigops habroptilus)

A chubby, flightless and nocturnal parrot, there are only 125 kākāpō in existence. You may have heard of kākāpō thanks to Sirocco, who notoriously shagged Mark Carwardine on “Stephen Fry’s Last Chance to See” (see below). Male kākāpō BOOM to attract mates, and they are the heaviest and longest-living parrots. In 2013, they were (quite unfairly, I must say) voted the second ugliest animal. How could you call this adorable face ugly?! Visit Kākāpō Recovery on their website or Facebook to learn more. You can also read more about kākāpō here.

Image by Chris Birmingham/Department of Conservation (CC BY 2.0).

Image by Chris Birmingham/Department of Conservation (CC BY 2.0).

KĀKĀ (Nestor meridionalis)

Forest-dwelling relative of the kea, these fellas are also well-known for their cheekiness. Most kākā are grey-green, but some have a gorgeous red colour variation. Kākā are basically the closest thing to dinosaurs, retaining some ancient parrot characteristics since they split off from their cousins around 100 million years ago. The kākā is at risk due to habitat loss and predation from introduced pests, but has recently been welcomed into the leafy subrubs of Wellington. Zealandia Ecosanctuary is backing this bird: YES WE KĀKĀ CAN!

Image by Small (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Image by Small (CC BY-SA 2.0).

BAR-TAILED GODWIT  (Limosa lapponica baueri, kūaka)

This insane mofo completes the longest non-stop flight of any bird, migrating between the Arctic tundra and temperate regions in Asia/Australia/New Zealand. It’s been recorded as flying more than 11,000km over 9 days, the longest trip without stopping to feed of ANY animal. Like woah, THAT’S CRAZY DUDES. When they’re not flying ridic long distances, they can be found chilling in mudflats and marshes, munching on insects, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Tasty.

Image by Ben (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Image by Ben (CC BY-ND 2.0).

CHATHAM ISLAND BLACK ROBIN  (Petroica traversi)

This lil black sphere is super resilient, battling back from the brink of extinction, fo’ real. There are now around 250 black robins, but back in 1980, there were only five left. ONLY FIVE. This included a *single* fertile female, named Old Blue. Using cross-fostering techniques, Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team were able to save these cuties. As all individuals are descended from Old Blue, there is unfortunately little genetic variation between them. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to have caused any inbreeding issues, suggesting that the species has suffered similar population bottlenecks in the past. Ain’t nature crazy cool?

Image by Frances Schmechel (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Image by Frances Schmechel (CC BY-SA 2.0).

FIORDLAND CRESTED PENGUIN  (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus, tawaki)

These dapper chaps have excellent eyebrows. Just look at those spiky yellow plumes! You won’t find these rare penguins in the Antarctic – they live in colonies in coastal temperate rainforest. Tawaki mate for life, and like other penguins, they don’t have teeth. Instead, they have nightmare-inducing fleshy spines that allow them to swallow their food whole.

Dem eyebrows. Image by travelwayoflife (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Dem eyebrows. Image by travelwayoflife (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Inside a penguin's mouth: THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES. Image via Imgur.

Inside a penguin's mouth: THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES. Image via Imgur.

KĀREAREA  (Falco novaeseelandiae, New Zealand Falcon)

Don’t get on this dude’s bad side – despite their small stature, these birds of prey are fiercely territorial and will attack people.  Unlike their larger swamp harrier relatives, kārearea won’t be found scavenging carrion. Instead, they prefer to display amazing aerial acrobatic prowess and snatch their prey out of the air, or grab them off the ground with their sharp talons. These falcons are speed demons, reaching speeds of up to 200 km/h. And they’re not just fast – they’re gutsy too, killing prey UP TO SIX TIMES LARGER than itself. WOAH. If you’re a fan of a classic Marlborough sav, vote kārearea! They have been introduced to the Marlborough wine region to deal with grape-devouring pests. Check out Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust.

Tiny but mighty. Image by Tony Wills (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Tiny but mighty. Image by Tony Wills (CC BY-SA 3.0).

KERERŪ (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae, New Zealand Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, kūkupa, kūkū)

With a white singlet stretched over their rotund middle and whooshing wings in flight, it’s hard to miss these tubsters in the bush. These guys are trendsetters, living the raw vegan lifestyle way before it was cool on Instagram – they mainly eat fruit, with a few flowerbuds thrown in. Kererū are super important to many native plant species, including kawaka and tara, dispersing their seeds via poop. If the kererū disappeared, our beautiful lush NZ forests would never be the same again. The kererū was an important food source for Māori, however it is now illegal to hunt them. Other threats to these forest fatties include predation by rats, stoats, cats and possums. Go to Kererū Discovery and Project Kererū to learn more.

On the lookout for some tasty forest fruit. Image by Cheryl Harvey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

On the lookout for some tasty forest fruit. Image by Cheryl Harvey (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

KŌKAKO (Callaeas wilsoni)

These intriguing North Island forest-dwellers have grey plumage, a black eyemask and striking blue wattles. They once had a South Island cousin adorned with orangey wattles, who is sadly now presumed extinct. Like many NZ birds, this fella has a hard time flying and instead prefers to hop around, scramble up trees and glide – more like a flying squirrel than a bird! This behaviour evolved in the absence of mammalian predators, so the introduction of nasties like stoats has had a devastating effect on our kōkako friends. They have a clear, bell-like call which can be heard ringing across the forest for kilometres in a “bush choir.” Visit Hunua Kōkako Recovery Project to see more of these woodland warblers.

Masked forest bandit with a bell-like voice. Image by Matt Binns (CC BY 2.0).

Masked forest bandit with a bell-like voice. Image by Matt Binns (CC BY 2.0).

TAKAHĒ (Porphyrio hochstetteri)

The largest member of the rail family, this stocky big-beaked bird was once presumed to be extinct. Incredibly, a small population was rediscovered in 1948, deep in the rugged mountains of Fiordland National Park. The takahē once inhabited swamps, however conversion of swampland to farmland left them searching for a new home. They found it higher up on the tussocked mountainsides, where they dine on alpine grasses. The takahē is flightless, and is at risk due to predation by stoats and competition for food sources with deer. There are currently around 260 takahē, with several populations residing on predator-free island sanctuaries.

The rugged Murchison mountains in Fiordland National Park - where the takahe was rediscovered in 1948. Image by Dan Nelson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The rugged Murchison mountains in Fiordland National Park - where the takahe was rediscovered in 1948. Image by Dan Nelson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

WRYBILL (Anarhynchus frontalis, ngutuparore)

This plump lil plover is endemic to New Zealand. The wrybill is the only bird species to have a sideways-bent beak. Why, you may ask? To reach under and around riverstones to catch some delish insect tucker, of course. WOAH EVOLUTION YOU CRAZY. The wrybill breeds in the braided rivers of the South Island, and spends January to July each year holidaying in the estuaries of the North Island.

Check out that bent beak! Image by 57Andrew (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Check out that bent beak! Image by 57Andrew (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Rakaia River: an example of a braided river, where wrybills breed. Image by Geoff Leeming (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Rakaia River: an example of a braided river, where wrybills breed. Image by Geoff Leeming (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Of course, there are many other fabulous birds you can vote for; this is just a small selection of the feathered phenoms we have here in lil ol’ Aotearoa. VOTE HERE then let me know who you voted for & why in the comments!