Otago Daily Times

Best of the birds

- United States of America · New Zealand · Competition · Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand · Otago

NOW that the en­tree — the US elec­tion — is (ef­fec­tively) over, it is time to move on to the main course.

If you think the Bi­den­Trump clash was awash in con­tro­versy, al­le­ga­tion and ten­sion, and that it di­vided a na­tion like no other is­sue, you have seen noth­ing yet.

We re­fer, of course, to that an­nual de­bate that keeps New Zealand in a vice­like grip dur­ing a two­week vot­ing pe­riod, and be­yond — when the re­sults are an­a­lysed and ex­am­ined, the vic­tor ques­tioned, and the en­tire demo­cratic sys­tem cast into doubt.

It is nearly time to crown the Bird of the Year.

A triv­ial mat­ter, yes, but tell that to the pas­sion­ate sup­port­ers of the mighty toroa, the cheeky kea, the en­dan­gered whio, and the good old kiwi.

Tell the ad­vo­cates for the hoiho, which last year staged a stun­ning late run to be­come the first seabird to win the cov­eted ti­tle, that the yel­low­eyed wad­dlers have been do­ing a year­long vic­tory tour for noth­ing.

Vot­ing closes at 5pm on Sun­day, and there will soon af­ter be a new cham­pion of the New Zealand avian world, and it will bring new mean­ing to the lives of which­ever breed claims the crown.

That is, of course, if we do not get bogged down in an Amer­i­can­style mess of slow count­ing and con­tro­versy, if we do not get bird­brained pro­test­ers yelling ‘‘stop the count’’, and if the hoiho does not refuse to va­cate the top spot on the podium.

Al­ready, there have been signs of skull­dug­gery. Com­pe­ti­tion or­gan­iser For­est & Bird this week re­viewed about 1500 fraud­u­lent votes that had been cast in the state of Penn­syl­van . . . in on­line vot­ing for the lit­tle spot­ted kiwi. They pro­pelled the pukupuku to the top of the leader­board, but were sub­se­quently re­moved.

As the cam­paign en­ters its fi­nal days, we im­plore all bird fans to re­spect the demo­cratic process, and to use their sin­gle vote (well, tech­ni­cally five) with suit­able dis­cre­tion and sin­cer­ity.

The com­pe­ti­tion, which started 15 years ago when the tui was the in­au­gu­ral win­ner, now at­tracts global in­ter­est.

Last year, the BBC re­ported breath­lessly on the ‘‘an­ti­so­cial pen­guin’’ — the hoiho — that claimed vic­tory. This week, the Guardian has been cov­er­ing the is­sue, high­light­ing an adult toy store’s en­dorse­ment of ‘‘a small, polyamorou­s bird with un­usu­ally large gen­i­tals’’, the hihi (stitch­bird).

There are re­ports the toroa and the kakapo — it won in 2008; that would ap­pear to put the boomer out of the run­ning as, oddly, there have been 15 dif­fer­ent winners in 15 years — led the early vot­ing.

The Otago Daily Times has no dog in this fight, if you will par­don the cross­species ref­er­ence. We imag­ine our read­ers would be de­lighted if any of our lo­cal birds — the toroa, the shag, the lit­tle pen­guin, the ‘‘mighty, ma­jes­tic, fear­some’’ har­rier hawk — were to come out on top.

In a year that has de­liv­ered so many chal­lenges, the Bird of the Year comes as wel­come light re­lief. Let’s en­joy it, which­ever bird wins.

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