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New Zealand held a Bird of the Century competition. John Oliver got this puking bird to win

by Madison Thomas
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Bird-of-the-Century-Victory

Comedian John Oliver has achieved a notable triumph in his endeavor to secure victory for what he characterizes as an unconventional, regurgitating avian specimen, adorned with a vibrant mullet, in New Zealand’s distinguished Bird of the Century competition.

The distinguished North Island brown kiwi, the emblematic national avian symbol of New Zealand, was eclipsed by Oliver’s fervently endorsed aquatic bird, the pūteketeke. This decisive outcome was the result of Oliver’s wholehearted and humorously embellished advocacy for the pūteketeke on his acclaimed HBO program, “Last Week Tonight.” The voting process in New Zealand encountered a substantial influx of foreign participation, leading to a two-day delay in declaring the victor due to the overwhelming response generated by Oliver’s campaign.

Traditionally known as Bird of the Year, this annual event serves the noble purpose of raising awareness regarding the predicament of the country’s indigenous avian inhabitants, some of which have sadly faced extinction. In this instance, the competition was christened Bird of the Century in commemoration of the centenary of the Conservation group Forest and Bird.

Oliver ingeniously exploited a regulatory loophole that permitted anyone with a valid email address to cast their vote. His tireless efforts included the erection of billboards bearing the moniker “The Lord of the Wings” in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Additionally, he displayed billboards in prominent cities such as Paris, Tokyo, London, and Mumbai, India. An aircraft with a banner flew over Ipanema Beach in Brazil as part of his campaign, and he even donned an oversized avian costume during an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show.”

Oliver humorously remarked on his show, “After all, this is what democracy is all about – America interfering in foreign elections.”

Although Forest and Bird did not immediately release the final vote count, they disclosed that they had received over 350,000 verified votes, surpassing the previous record of 56,700 votes set in 2021 by more than sixfold. The “high-powered” nature of Oliver’s campaign briefly overwhelmed their voting verification system.

Nicola Toki, the Chief Executive of Forest and Bird, described the experience as “pretty crazy, in the best possible way” before the victor was announced. New Zealand’s unique ecosystem is characterized by the dominance of birds before the arrival of humans. Despite the fact that nearly nine out of every ten New Zealanders now reside in urban areas, a profound affection for nature and wildlife endures.

Toki stated, “We have this intangible and extraordinarily powerful connection to our wildlife and our birds.”

The Bird of the Year competition has weathered previous controversies, including the discovery of approximately 1,500 fraudulent votes for the little spotted kiwi in 2020. Two years ago, the contest was won by a bat, a decision that was upheld because it was considered a member of the avian family by Indigenous Māori.

This year, the organizers undertook measures to eliminate fraudulent votes, including the removal of 40,000 votes attributed to a single individual in favor of the eastern rockhopper penguin.

Toki reminisced that when the competition commenced in 2005, they garnered a total of 865 votes, which was deemed a significant success at the time. Remarkably, the previous record for vote count was shattered within hours of Oliver launching his campaign.

Oliver’s involvement began when he reached out to the organization earlier in the year to inquire about the possibility of championing a particular bird. They granted him permission, not anticipating the fervent and theatrical advocacy that would ensue.

Toki recounted, “I was cry laughing when I watched Oliver’s segment.”

Oliver expounded on the pūteketeke’s peculiar traits, highlighting that these birds, numbering less than 1,000 in New Zealand and also known as the Australasian crested grebe, consume their own feathers before regurgitating them. He playfully described their courtship ritual, which involves grasping wet grass clumps and engaging in a distinctive chest-bumping display, followed by an uncertain pause.

While some in New Zealand resisted Oliver’s campaign, expressing support for the kiwi, he countered by humorously likening the kiwi to “a rat carrying a toothpick.”

Oliver graciously remarked on his show, “For the record, all of your birds are great, and it would be an honor to lose to any of them when the results are announced on Wednesday. The reason it is so easy for me to say that is that we aren’t going to lose, are we? We are going to win, and we are going to win by a lot.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Bird-of-the-Century-Victory

What is the “Bird of the Century” contest in New Zealand?

The “Bird of the Century” contest is an annual event in New Zealand organized by the conservation group Forest and Bird. It aims to raise awareness about the country’s native bird species, many of which are endangered. In 2023, the contest was held to commemorate the centennial of Forest and Bird.

Who won the “Bird of the Century” contest in 2023?

Comedian John Oliver’s favored bird, the pūteketeke (also known as the Australasian crested grebe), won the “Bird of the Century” contest in 2023. This victory came after a humorous and high-profile campaign led by John Oliver on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.”

What was John Oliver’s campaign strategy?

John Oliver’s campaign strategy was unconventional and humorous. He exploited a loophole in the voting rules, allowing anyone with a valid email address to cast a vote. He used billboards, aircraft banners, and even appeared in an oversized bird costume on television shows to promote the pūteketeke. His campaign was a mix of humor and foreign interference, which garnered significant attention and votes.

How did Forest and Bird respond to John Oliver’s campaign?

Forest and Bird initially allowed John Oliver to champion the pūteketeke without fully anticipating the extent of his campaign. They later acknowledged the unprecedented response and vote count generated by Oliver’s campaign, which temporarily overwhelmed their voting verification system.

What is unique about New Zealand’s bird population?

New Zealand’s bird population is unique because birds evolved as the dominant animals in the ecosystem before the arrival of humans. Despite a significant urban population, many New Zealanders maintain a deep love for nature and wildlife.

Have there been controversies in previous Bird of the Year contests?

Yes, previous Bird of the Year contests have faced controversies. In 2020, about 1,500 fraudulent votes were discovered for the little spotted kiwi. In a past contest, a bat won, which was allowed because it was considered part of the avian family by Indigenous Māori.

What makes the pūteketeke unique?

The pūteketeke, or Australasian crested grebe, is known for its peculiar behavior. It consumes its own feathers before regurgitating them and engages in a distinctive chest-bumping courtship ritual involving wet grass clumps.

How many votes were received in the 2023 Bird of the Century contest?

Forest and Bird received more than 350,000 verified votes in the 2023 Bird of the Century contest, which was over six times the previous record of 56,700 votes in 2021.

What was the significance of John Oliver’s campaign in the contest?

John Oliver’s campaign brought unprecedented attention to the Bird of the Century contest and played a pivotal role in the victory of the pūteketeke. His humorous and high-powered campaign drew global interest and significantly increased the vote count.

How did some New Zealanders respond to John Oliver’s campaign?

While some New Zealanders supported John Oliver’s campaign for the pūteketeke, others resisted it and urged people to vote for the kiwi. There were billboards and messages both in favor of and against Oliver’s campaign, adding to the contest’s excitement.

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1 comment

NatureFan101 November 15, 2023 - 3:36 pm

This contest seems like a fun way to raise awareness bout them native birds in NZ. John Oliver went all out!

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