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New Zealand’s Bird of the Year Contest Includes Extinct Candidates

Kea Parrot

It is once again time for the New Zealand Bird of the Year Contest, hosted by New Zealand’s Forest & Bird. Last year, the organization made waves by banning a certain fan favorite from competing. The Kakapo, a chubby bright green terrestrial parrot with the uncanny ability to charm anyone who looks at it, was banned from the competition last year due to its previous two wins. Although Kakapos are still critically endangered, the organization wanted to allow some lesser known endangered birds to take the spotlight.

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That year, the rare mountain-dwelling Rock Wren took home the crown. This was not the first time a controversial choice won this globally popular contest. In 2021, just a year prior, New Zealand’s critically endangered Long-tailed Bat won the prize. Although obviously not a bird, this tiny flying rodent is one of New Zealand’s only endemic land animals.

This year’s Bird of the Year competition promises to deliver on the zany plot twists that followers have come to expect from the past few years of contests, all in the name of conservation and awareness! The 2023 contest is being branded as the “Bird of the Century” rather than the “Bird of the Year,” in acknowledgement of Forest & Bird’s centennial anniversary. As such, the scope of the contest has been widened in order to include five extinct species.

New Zealand’s wildlife, which is mostly comprised of birds, faces a number of conservation challenges. Dozens of New Zealand birds are currently considered to be endangered or threatened, with many species critically endangered and facing the very real possibility of extinction. Because New Zealand is an island nation whose wildlife has long been separated from continental wildlife, the impending loss of biodiversity is substantial. The choice to include extinct birds was made in hopes of raising awareness of the very real and dire reality that many New Zealand species are facing.

The extinct entrants are the Laughing Owl, which was last confirmed in 1914, the Bush Wren which died out in 1972, the New Zealand Thrush whose last confirmed sightings were in 1902 and 1905, the South Island snipe which went extinct in 1964, and the Huia whose last official sighting was in 1907. Each of these birds has a different story, but many of the challenges which drove them to extinction are the same. For these five birds, and the many birds which face extinction in New Zealand, the introduction of invasive predators like rats, weasels, and stoats was cataclysmic.

No matter who wins the contest, may the other 70 contestants in this year’s competition survive to participate in the next centennial contest, 100 years from now.

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