Anti-social penguin crowned New Zealand’s Bird of the Year

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hoiho yellow-eyed penguin anti-social penguin
The hoiho won with 12,022 out of the 43,460 votes cast and verified.PIX: GETTY IMAGES via BBC

NEW ZEALAND – An endangered yellow-eyed penguin has won New Zealand’s coveted Bird of the Year competition after two weeks of intense campaigning.

The hoiho saw off more than five rivals to become the first penguin to win the annual honour in its 14-year history.

With only 225 pairs left on New Zealand’s mainland, the hoiho is said to be the rarest penguin in the world.

Experts say the hoiho is an anti-social bird that communicates with a high-pitched scream.

The bird won 12,022 out of the 43,460 votes cast and verified, organisers said.

Forest & Bird, the conservation group that runs the poll, said the hoiho’s victory over the kakapo and last year’s winner, the kereru, was a “huge upset”.

“It was so close between these amazing endangered birds, it was impossible to predict a winner for most of the competition,” said Megan Hubscher, a spokeswoman for the group.

The penguin’s bid attracted support from two mayors during a campaign marked by “memes and trash-talk”, Ms Hubscher said.

The vote attracts interest nationwide, with campaign teams renting billboard space and creating promotional videos to build support.

Underlining the significance of the result, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledged the penguin’s victory at her weekly press conference.

“I feel inclined to congratulate the winner given it’s the first seabird that’s taken out top honours,” she said on Monday.

Ms Ardern expressed hope that the hoiho’s victory would pave the way for “a future win for the black petrel”, another seabird she has shown “long-standing commitment and support for”.

There are no reports of voting irregularities this year after fixing scandals marred previous polls.

Previous winners include the kereru, a type of wood pigeon, in 2018 and the kea, a species of large parrot, in 2017.

“Bird of the Year has become a national passion, and that’s thanks to everyone relentlessly and ruthlessly promoting their favourite bird’s weirdest qualities to the globe,” Ms Hubscher said.

NZ Bird of the Year hoiho

What kind of bird is it?

A tall, portly penguin with a pale yellow band of feathers on its head, the hoiho stands around 65cm (25in) tall and weighs around 5kg (11lb).

Although mostly silent, the birds do shriek in a high-pitched tone when they mate.

Experts fear the penguins are at risk of becoming extinct unless action is taken to conserve their habitat.

Hoiho face numerous threats, including warming oceans leading to changes in food availability, bottom trawling damaging feeding grounds, being caught in fishing nets, and disturbance from humans, Forest & Bird said.

For this year’s poll, the organiser used a single transferable voting (STV) system, where voters rank their five favourite native birds.

Under STV, if one candidate’s vote-share exceeds a certain threshold, their surplus votes are transferred to other candidates, which is why the black robin rose from fifth to third in the final tally. – BBC

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