New Zealand declared the pūteketeke Australasian crested grebe its “bird of the century” Wednesday, giving the endangered bird the crown after U.S. television host John Oliver waged an international campaign on the bird’s behalf that brought such a surge of votes it postponed the election by two days.
The pūteketeke won the bird of the century contest, run by conservation group Forest and Bird, with 290,374 votes, the organization announced Wednesday, declaring, “pūteketeke pandemonium prevails.”
The pūteketeke scored a landslide victory, with the North Island brown kiwi coming in second place with 12,904 votes, and was declared the winner after the surge of votes from Oliver’s fans crashed Forest and Bird’s system and delayed the announcement by two days.
Oliver declared himself and his show the “official campaign manager” of the pūteketeke on his comedy show “Last Week Tonight” earlier this month, saying they had waged an “alarmingly aggressive” effort to help the bird win and saying in his program Sunday he wanted the bird to “do to other bird of the century candidates what the pūteketeke does to fish in New Zealand lakes: eat them alive and then throw them back up in a ball of feathers.”
Oliver pointed to such characteristics as its name that “feels like your tongue is tap dancing” and called on his viewers to vote in the New Zealand contest, saying, “After all, this is what democracy is all about: America interfering in foreign elections.”
“Last Week Tonight” put up billboards campaigning for the pūteketeke around the world, including in New Zealand, Tokyo, Mumbai, London and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and Oliver appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” to champion the pūteketeke while dressed as the bird.
“Pūteketeke began as an outside contender for Bird of the Century but was catapulted to the top spot thanks to its unique looks, adorable parenting style, and propensity for puking,” Forest & Bird chief executive Nicola Toki said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re not surprised these charming characteristics caught the eye of an influential bird enthusiast with a massive following.”
Fewer than 1,000. That’s how many pūteketeke birds are believed to be in New Zealand, according to Forest and Bird, with less than 3,000 across New Zealand and Australia. The bird has a classification of being “Nationally Vulnerable,” though Forest and Bird notes the bird’s population is on the rise, after there were less than 200 birds in the 1980s.
The more than 350,000 votes cast in the bird of the century competition marks a record for the bird competition, which is traditionally known in other years as “bird of the year.” The previous record in the competition, which has been going since 2005, is 56,733 votes cast in 2021, according to Forest and Bird.
Oliver’s campaign drew a fair amount of criticism in New Zealand by bird enthusiasts who championed other birds in the race. “It really ruffles the feathers of the integrity of the bird of the year campaign,” Michael Burton-Smith, described as the campaign manager for the mātuhituhi bird, told New Zealand’s 1News, while hoiho campaign manager Jamie Martin said the fact the pūteketeke can also be found in Australia means he’s “not really sure that’s the best pick for New Zealand’s bird of the century.”
Bird of the Century winner announced: Pūteketeke pandemonium prevails (Forest and Bird)
John Oliver ruffles feathers in New Zealand’s Bird of the Century election (BBC News)
John Oliver’s Unhinged Bird of the Century Campaign Ruffles Some Feathers in New Zealand (Rolling Stone)