Simanaitis Says

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BALLOT BOX STUFFING! The executive-in-chief favors one candidate; a sex toy retailer favors another! The incumbent gracefully withdraws, even before the election begins! And everything turns out okay. 

In what alternative universe could such an election take place? 

In New Zealand, naturally.

As reported by NPR, November 14, 2020, “Voter Fraud Ruffles New Zealand ‘Bird of the Year’ Competition.” Here are tidbits gleaned from this article, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

NZ’s Annual Avian Election. Forest & Bird, a New Zealand conservation organization, runs the annual “Bird of the Year,” an election that New Zealanders take seriously, though with their usual sense of humor and sense of proportion. The election helps to raise awareness about the country’s native bird species, many of which are endangered. 

“We are a land of birds,” Forest & Bird’s Laura Keown told NPR, “and we have some of the most amazing and unique species.” 

The Contenders. At one point of the selection process, the little spotted kiwi aka kiki pukupuku, Apteryx owenil, soared to the top of the voting. Opps. Wrong simile. Like all kiwis, kiki pukupuku is flightless: Its Latin Apteryx implies “wingless.”  

The little spotted kiwi. Illustration by G.D. Rowley, 1870s.

Organizers got suspicious when 1500 votes for the kiki pukupuku arrived from a single email address. Given the address wasn’t an aviary, they discounted possible individuality of the voters.

This disqualification initially lifted the Kakapo to top billing. [Ed: Enough already with avian puns.] This, NPR writes, is “a rare nocturnal bird known for its owlish beak and yellow-green coloring and the only flightless parrot in the world.”

The contenders, as of Friday, November 12, 2020. Polling ended Sunday, November 14, 2020, 5 p.m., NZ time (Saturday, 8 p.m., U.S. Pacific time).

NPR continued, “As of Friday, the Antipodean albatross, a critically endangered seabird, had swooped to the top of the leader board.”

And who is Ed to question NPR?  

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, sorta the world’s Poster PM for Prudent Covid-19 Response, expressed support for a regular favorite of hers, the black petrel

A black petrel, Procellaria parkinsoni, off Wollongong, Australia. Image by 3HEADEDDOG.

I wonder, was Ardren’s choice influenced by NZ’s famed All Blacks rugby team?

NPR noted another contender: “The hihi, also known as the stitchbird, earned an official endorsement from a sex toy retailer. The Adult Toy Megastore extolled the polyamorous bird, which boasts unusually large testicles and engages in face-to-face mating, as a leader ‘of the sex positivity movement among songbirds.’ ”

This hihi calls out for more research: According to Wikipedia, the stitchbird aka hihi (Notiomystis cinta) is now classed as the only member of its own family, the Notiomystidae. 

A male hihi flicking up its tail feathers. The wristlets are optional dress. Image by Pseudopanax at English Wikipedia.

The hihi is rare and native only to Little Barrier Island, off the northern tip of NZ’s North Island. Sure enough, Wikipedia notes that the hihi is the only bird that mates face-to-face. (For the curious, Wikipedia shows a photo of this; to my eye, it’s mostly twigs and feathers.)

The Final Tally. As reported in The Guardian, November 15, 2020, “It can’t fly and it hides during the day but a critically endangered large parrot is back in the limelight having been named New Zealand’s bird of the year for an unprecedented second time.”

The kākāpō aka mighty moss chicken, Strigops habroptilus. Image from The Guardian, November 15, 2020.

The Guardian continues, “The green and fawn kākāpō —the world’s heaviest, longest-living parrot—first won in 2008. After conservation efforts, the population of this large parrot has risen from 50 during the 1990s to 213 now.” 

An Incumbent’s Behavior. As NPR observes, “In an honorable move, the 2019 winner, the yellow-eyed penguin, has decided to sit out this year’s competition to let his winged counterparts shine.” 

The yellow-eyed penguin aka hoiho aka tarakaka, Megadyptes antipodes. Image by Christian Mehlführer, User: Chmehl from Wikipedia.

Gee, wouldn’t it have been nice if another incumbent had displayed such honorable behavior? Or at least recognize when the game is up. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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