And the winner is … the Kea
For the last 13 years New Zealand has held a Bird of the Year competition. Run by the conservation organisation Forest & Bird, it enables the nation to vote for its favourite native bird. It sounds like a brilliant initiative to get the population engaged with its bird life. By all accounts there’s lots of media attention, which ensures that conservation gets plenty of air time and column inches. In 2017, more 50,000 votes were cast, with the final winner being the kea, or mountain parrot.
Forest & Bird say of the kea, which scored 7,311 votes on the poll:
‘Kea are unashamedly reckless. Whether they are testing your car, your brand new alpine tent or your lunch, they certainly make themselves known. Their cheeky antics and curious behaviour often lands them in a whole lot of trouble, landing them the notorious title of ‘clown of the mountains.
Kea are social, raucous, colourful, bold and highly intelligent. But they are now becoming conspicuous by their absence with some reports suggesting they are declining in the wild. Aside from threats such as human foods and materials, traffic, lead poisoning, hunting and illegal wildlife trading, kea are threatened by some of the very things that are set up to help protect them, like predator traps.‘
David Attenborough famously fell in love the kea; he describes their cheeky – and occasionally destructive – personalities in this film on YouTube. With his endorsement, the kea was always going to be a contender. Although they are critically endangered they are often seen at Arthur’s Pass on South Island, where they spend their days trying to shred or nick the windscreen wipers from parked cars. Arthur’s Pass is, of course, included in our itinerary, and we’re hoping that we may be lucky enough to see a kea there. I wonder if our car insurance will cover vandalism by a parrot?
The Bird of the Year competition plainly captures the public’s imagination. Passions become inflamed, and some folk even resort to underhand methods to boost the chances of their preferred bird. The rules state “one person, one vote”, but in 2017 the competition was rocked by reports that an unnamed Christchurch resident set up 112 email accounts to vote for his (or her?) personal favourite, the white-faced heron. Shame on him, or indeed her!
Herons have a special place in my heart too, for a very personal reason After my dad died, Julie and I started taking mum out with us on local bird watching trips. She fell in love with herons, and was always thrilled to see them. It made birthdays and Christmases so much easier for us – just buy mum a picture of a heron, or a heron T-shirt or a heron carving and she’ll be as happy as Larry. Now, my mum was a very proper lady and wouldn’t have publicly condoned what happened in 2017, but I bet that wherever she’ll is now she’ll give a little cheer when she finds out just what people will do in support of her beloved herons. Good on yer, mum.