Thought electioneering was over? Wrong. As the humans take their last chance to go to the ballot box, the birds are just starting their campaign, it’s looking like a fierce one.

If you thought today would be a day free from pleas for your vote and campaign promises you’d be wrong. 

Human politicians are legally silenced on voting day, but another election is kicking off and candidates are keen to get their messages across. 

It’s not the United States elections, it’s Bird of the Year. Voting opens on November 2 and the hopefuls are already out and about on social media, delivering messages, memes and smackdowns.

The annual competition is Forest & Bird’s biggest event of the year. Communications advisor Laura Keown said last year at least 50,000 people engaged with it on the website. 

“A lot of people don’t know that three quarters of our birds are in trouble or facing extinction. If you spend a bit of time on the Bird of Year website and look at the threat status of our amazing native birds, you start to notice that a lot of them are in decline or, or facing extinction. They have a lot of challenges and threats out there, including climate change.”

Members of the public can apply to be a campaign manager for the chosen birds and are free to campaign for votes as they wish. Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Tinder profiles and even TikTok accounts are made, with campaign managers getting creative with images and videos.

There’s usually a bit of character-assassination, “like saying the kererū was drunk, or that the pūkeko is just a swamp chicken” said Keown when asked about the problem of fake news.

“We kind of let the dirty politics go, as long as they also talk about the true facts of promoting the conservation of the birds that people love.”

Like last year, the campaign will use preferential voting, allowing the public to choose their favourite five birds. This saw strategies where blocs were formed. For the hoiho / yellow-eyed penguin, this paid off. The “penguin party” coalition campaigned together and the hoiho emerged as the 2019 winner. 

After past hacking scandals, security has been tightened and voting is scrutinised by a volunteer data analyst from Dragonfly data. Last year’s fears of Russian interference are thought to be unfounded.

Voting opens at 9am on Monday 2 November and closes at 5pm on Sunday 15 November. Keown said some birds are still looking for a campaign manager to help them reach voters.

“Why is so much focused on all these humans trying to fit inside a beehive? Don’t they know they’ll get stuck? Team Kakī wants answers.” 

Newsroom has approached a few of the feathered candidates and asked why people should vote for them, and what their campaign promises are. The responses are below.

Special effort was made to track down the South Island kōkako, also known as the “grey ghost”, because it hasn’t been seen in decades and a rift in the time-space continuum was created to get comment from one angry wannabe-candidate, barred from running due to the fact it’s extinct.

Keown responded to the claim of discrimination levelled at Forest & Bird by the extinct Haast’s eagle:

“Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year comp is all about promoting the conservation of the amazing unique birds in Aotearoa. Extinct birds like Haast’s eagle and moa are an incredible part of our natural history, but there’s no saving them. We don’t put Richard Seddon in our preferred Prime Minister polls.  

“There are a pile of amazing living birds that are right on the brink of extinction, like the tara iti / fairy tern and kakī, who can still win Bird of the Year and be saved for future generations!”

Additional candidates, and links to campaign social media pages can be found at the Bird of the Year website.

2020 has been a dark year, full of anguish and torment. Sometimes it makes you just want to be like me, the Ruru: sitting alone in the darkness, singing a melancholy song, and maybe munching on a few pests.

But I’m more than just a midnight murderbird. In the words of the Tēnei Te Ruru haka:

The head of the ruru is steadfast on its shoulders 
As it calls us 
From the darkness 
And into the world of light 
To a dawn of new understanding

Ruru is the bird we need to guide us out of the darkness of 2020: a vigilant guardian keeping a watchful eye over her domain; ready and willing to lay the smackdown on rats, stoats, and white supremacy.

There’s a lot of options out there this year like your chonks, your fancy-birbs, and the extravagant but ultimately ineffective Royal Spoonbill with their head-feathers and seawater sipping. We don’t need more pork-barrel politics; what we need is a barrel of morepork politics. 

A vote for Ruru is a vote for a strong, watchful, independent bird of the year. Vote vigilance. Vote Ruru.

Why should we vote for you?

*Spoons up cereal* Well. Let’s be honest *crunch*. 2020. What a year. A tough year. A weird year.

You know what else is tough? *crunch* Royal spoonbills. You know what else is weird? *scoops more cereal* The royal spoonbill. *crunches thoughtfully*. So why not vote for the bird that matches the year? *gulp*. Weird, but tough. kōtuku ngutupapa has you covered.

We need an inspirational leader to help Aotearoa to rise from the ashes of 2020. To make new from what has been lost. kōtuku ngutupapa is the spoon-billed phoenix we need. 

The royal spoonbill is increasing its population against steep odds. It is rising where others are failing, miserably. Take the kākāpō for example, who is too busy drunkenly falling out of trees to make it to their 5 yearly mating season. Or the ruru who chooses to hide in the shadows scoffing down moths and mice rather than facing the music. Don’t get us started on those rock-brained penguins. Just look where the hoiho’s leadership has got us. These are not leaders we can trust to get us through these uncertain times!

Meanwhile kōtuku ngutupapa has been busy gettin’ busy, and thriving. All while most New Zealander’s have no idea they exist. This year will change that.

Vote for a strong bill. A Royal bill. A spoon bill.

*pours box of cereal straight into mouth*

Our humble campaign promises dank memes, and sweet dreams of being bird of the year.

If we do win, we will use our Royal influence to lift up our gumby native whanau and pull them from the brink. Whether it be through handcrafted memes, or sheer inspiration, we can promise that all the cool kids will be cereal about conservation. 

A vote for kakī is a vote away from the establishment. A vote for kakī is a vote for Aotearoa’s most vulnerable, least understood, and most beautiful birds. Kia kaha kakī.

Kakī campaign promises:

  1. Team Kakī supports a UBI (Universal Basic Insects). Mayfly larvae for all.
  2. Support the BiRBs (Braided River Birds) and the Coalition of Serious Trouble (birds that are ‘in serious trouble’).
  3. Ban hedgehogs hogging all the hedges and eating our eggs.
  4. Continue to work with farmers and local communities to improve our braided river habitats. 
  5. Launch an inquiry into what is going on with all the media focus on the second most important election of the year. Where is the love for the most important election, New Zealand’s Bird of the Year? Why is so much focused on all these humans trying to fit inside a beehive? Don’t they know they’ll get stuck? Team Kakī wants answers.

Us takahē represent everything wonderful about New Zealand’s biodiversity, we’re a little round, a lot chonky, and our wings aren’t getting us anywhere fast – but we have a lot of heart, and we have the determination to get through even the hardest of times (we’re not the hide and seek champions of 1898 – 1948 for nothing).

A vote for takahē is a vote to honour all the triumphs, and even setbacks, we’ve faced in our long road to recovery from near-extinction. Now standing proud at a population of over 400 birds, we’d love the chance to finally wear that prestigious bird of the year crown – Help make 2020 our year and vote takahē!

Our promises are simple: 

1.      To spread our message of chonky, rainbow positivity and self-love and
2.      More delicious tussock for every single bird and bird ally throughout Aotearoa 

Everyone should vote for me. I’m very intelligent, confident, but I understand subtlety too. Robins like me can give you any shade of grey you like, we’ve got North, South, Rakiura … I mean, 50 shades are just the start, right? Also, did I mention that I have a pretty choice mealworm stashed somewhere around here, you know what I’m saying? Or weta, if you prefer. I’m all for providing variety. No? You’re a spider fan, perhaps? By the way, have you heard me sing? ‘Cos I’ can sing you those shades too, all day long. Also, I’m the perfect sidekick, everyone knows that, right? But that’s not important right now. 

Campaign promises, you say? Well, I have a song just about ready to release. I’m thinking it should feature a photo of me, in a few of my favourite grey and whites, y’know? Humble is also my middle name. I’m all about the greater good. And another thing, we robins are not fans of predators in any colour, so a vote for toutouwai is a vote for predator control. And also for 50 shades of grey and white. Also, I have a forest stash full of earthworms, weta, spiders, you name it. Arthropods for all! What more could you want from a bird?  

Toutouwai would like to add that a full larder of invertebrates is a great way to get through lockdowns, making toutouwai the perfect bird to vote for in 2020. 

Last year, the variable oystercatcher/tōrea pango came 72nd in Bird of the Year. This year we’re going for first. Everyone loves an underdog (underbird?) and our insurgent campaign is poised to take the world of bird politics by storm!

We are also dedicated to New Zealand’s Covid-19 response! The 5,000 brave variable oystercatchers/tōrea pango that dot New Zealand’s beaches are card-carrying members of the team of 5 million. At a time when New Zealand is closed to visitors, these territorial shorebirds have fought off encroachment from Aussie seabirds and waders to keep us safe.We’re excellent at social distancing – screaming at anyone who gets too close and flying away if necessary. Many variable oystercatcher families remain isolated in their social bubbles year round and we can only assume that the remainder check what the current Alert Level is before flocking together. However, we must admit that variable oystercatchers are not known for our mask-wearing ability. Then again, nobody’s perfect!If elected Bird of the Year, the variable oystercatchers would implement the following policies:

  1. Tear down Human Parliament and build a Bird Parliament on its foundations
  2. Make enrolling and voting in Bird of the Year compulsory
  3. Seize the means of production
  4. Make it illegal for oysters to have difficult-to-pry-open shells
  5. Continue to scream at Humans and Other Birds who come too close
  6. Declare war on all mustelids

South Island kōkako set an enviable example of social distancing yet again in 2020. A real team player, The Grey Ghost stayed home and followed Covid-19 protocols implicitly. Unfortunately, the ‘bush telegraph’ is yet to reach this elusive bird and it remains unaware that ‘socialising’ is permitted under Level 1 restrictions. We hold no hope of other birds relaying the message for fear that if seen, heard or found, South Island kōkako would definitely reign supreme in the 2020 BotY election.

We implore New Zealanders who are traversing any South Island trails, especially the Heaphy Track or walks in South Westland, to keep their eyes and ears peeled for South Island kōkako. The South Island kōkako Charitable Trust has no shame in brazenly offering an election bribe of $10,000.00 for a confirmed sighting of the South Island kōkako by way of digital recording, photographs or DNA from shed feathers. See the South Island kōkako Charitable Trust website for full reward details and identification tips. 

I’m the dark horse, independent candidate. The Bird of the Year competition shows massive discrimination by excluding extinct birds from running. This is short-sighted because, puny humans, all the best birds are extinct.

If I were allowed to enter, a vote for me would be a vote to drain the swamp and make eagles great again. My campaign policy? End Bird of the Year by replacing all other birds with me, Bird for Life. The only bird you’ll ever need.

This year, the hoiho squawkus has made a difficult decision. It will not be seeking re-election as Bird of the Year. Instead, hoiho is throwing its considerable chonk behind the Penguin Party. Last year, the penguins of Aotearoa fell on their swords to support hoiho and we must honour their sacrifice. Together, we will raise awareness that penguins are not fish whilst reminding people throughout New Zealand that all six of our penguin species are in some or serious trouble. 

The Penguin Party is campaigning for a fishier future. Where every chick can access a hot regurgitated fish and where penguins can swim safely in areas with adequate marine protections. Aotearoa is the seabird capital of the world – with more threatened seabirds than anywhere else on earth. We can’t leave it up to the flappy forest goblins who have consistently failed to deliver on campaign promises. This year, vote seabirds – not tree birds. Vote Penguin Party.

During its year as champion, hoiho inspired the nation to protect the yellow-eyed penguin — on land and at sea. We posted meme after meme on our Facebook page, reaching thousands of people with the science behind hoiho conservation. We also raised over $1,000 for Forest & Bird’s work to protect hoiho at Te Rere Penguin Reserve in the Catlins. Following the election, we plan to launch an advocacy campaign calling for New Zealanders to join Team Hoiho by taking actions to protect hoiho — such as keeping your dogs on a leash, avoiding beaches where hoiho are breeding, and thinking about what kind of fish you’re eating.

Disclosure: The campaign manager for the Tōrea Pango / Variable Oystercatcher is Newsroom’s own Marc Daalder. 

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