The kea has been crowned New Zealand’s Bird of the Year after two weeks of heated campaigning.
These large, green mountain parrots are known for their curiosity and intelligence. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, they are now classified as Nationally Endangered with just 3000 – 7000 birds remaining.
Like many of New Zealand’s native birds, kea are vulnerable to predation by introduced mammalian predators. Stoats and cats are known to kill adult females and chicks on the nest, while rats and possums hassle them in the nest and eat their eggs.
The kea’s intelligence and inquisitive nature can also get them into trouble. When frequenting populated areas they are known to get hit by cars or stuck in man-made objects. They can also get sick from human food, which is sometimes fed to them by people.
Lead poisoning is also causing problems for some populations of kea, as they lick and chew the lead nails and flashings on older houses and huts.
Kea could also be impacted by climate change as warming temperatures might limit their habitat range in New Zealand’s alpine environments.
The kea’s successful campaign to win Bird of the Year was lead by a team of researchers and kea enthusiasts from across New Zealand. It was supported by the Kea Conservation Trust.
“We literally went out to every single person we knew and asked them to vote kea. We lobbied hard to get votes up on the first day, which I think made a big difference,” Team Kea co-campaigner Laura Young says.
The competition did not come without surprises for Team Kea, who were literally on the “campaign trail” while monitoring kea in Kahurangi National Park, with no reception.
“One day we climbed to the top of Mt Patriarch to get reception and check in on the campaign. We saw that the Green Party had made an official announcement in support of the kererū, so we used what little phone battery we had left to hit back at them with a retaliation video,” Young says.
“We’re proud to say we ran a peaceful campaign compared to many other birds. There were no attack politics from Team Kea, we just did our own thing and went at it hard.”
Team Kea hope the Bird of the Year title will raise awareness for kea and all of New Zealand’s birds, many of which are threatened with extinction.
“Everyone needs to see how vulnerable kea are in the wild. We often hear of them hanging out in car parks, being cheeky and stealing things, but don’t realise they are in decline. You can’t not love them,” Young says.
Bird of the Year is one of Forest & Bird’s most popular annual events. It aims to raise awareness for New Zealand’s unique native birds and the threats they face by asking people to vote for their favourite species.
This year was the competition’s most popular yet. It attracted over 50,000 votes, up from 20,000 in 2016. Bird of the Year also attracted worldwide coverage, with the competition being featured by BBC, The Guardian, and Buzzfeed.
The competition has also raised over $10,000 in donations to help Forest & Bird continue its work to protect and restore New Zealand’s wildlife and wild places.
The kererū came in second with 4572 votes, followed by the kākāpō with 2554 votes.
This is the first time the kea has won Bird of the Year title. It came second to the kōkako in 2016.