Fairy tern crowned NZ Seabird of the Year

The fairy tern has won the New Zealand Seabird of the Year poll, after three weeks of close competition. 

The poll is run by the independent conservation charity Forest & Bird.

The fairy tern and the Fiji petrel traded the lead in the poll several times. But a late surge saw it come out on top with 1882 votes. The Fiji petrel won 1801 votes, and 563 people voted for the little blue penguin.   

The co-campaign manager for the fairy tern, conservationist and author Wade Doak, says the fairy tern’s win is great news for the species, and for the people who work so hard to protect it. 

“Sadly, the dwindling numbers of fairy tern are disproportionate to their popularity, with only between 8-10 breeding pairs of the birds left,” says Wade Doak.

“However the upside is that there are plenty of people who are prepared to go to great lengths to save the fairy tern. Regardless of the conditions at Mangawhai Heads, you’ll almost always find a solitary figure - sitting on an upturned bucket - guarding a fairy tern colony. 

“The courage and devotion of the public to saving these birds is incredible. Which is fortunate, because it’s entirely up to us as to whether the birds will survive,” Wade Doak says.   

Steve Cranwell, from the global conservation organisation BirdLife International, acted as campaign manager for the Fiji petrel on behalf of NatureFiji-MareqetiViti.  

“The support of Fijians and Fijians at heart for the Fiji petrel campaign has exceeded all expectations. To all New Zealanders who included the Fiji petrel as part of the Pacifica family, ‘vinaka vakalevu,’” Steve Cranwell says. 

Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry was campaign manager for the little blue penguin. 

“It’s heartening to see such support for all of our marvellous seabirds. ‘Seabird of the Year’ highlights the importance of protecting the diversity of New Zealand’s bird species,” says Ms Barry.

Forest & Bird Conservation Advocate (Seabirds) Karen Baird says the light-hearted poll serves the purpose of making people aware that New Zealand has more native seabirds than any other country in the world. 

“New Zealand is a seabird superpower. More than a third of the world’s seabird species spend at least part of their lives here. Thirty-six of those only breed here.  

“But nearly half the 86 seabirds in total that breed in New Zealand are threatened with extinction,” Karen Baird says.

Forest & Bird and many of its branches run projects to protect seabirds. Some of these include mapping which areas provide habitat to globally important seabirds, providing the fairy tern with new predator-free habitats, and campaigning for increased predator control with aerial 1080.