Kiwi flies in Forest & Bird's Bird of the Year poll

New Zealand’s national bird, the kiwi, has won Forest & Bird’s title of Bird of the Year for 2009.

Rowi Kiwi, Photo courtesy of BNZ Save of the Kiwi

Rowi Kiwi, Photo courtesy of BNZ Save of the Kiwi

In a flying finish, this earth-bound bird winged its way to victory with 1586 votes, only taking the lead in the final days of polling.

The kiwi has fared badly in this annual popularity contest since Forest & Bird launched it in 2005. Last year, the kiwi failed to even reach the top 10.

This year, its main rivals – the rifleman and the kea – clocked up more than 1000 votes each in a competition that saw more than 11,000 people flock to the polls.

Campaign managers, including Jeremy Wells, Kiri Te Kanawa, Kim Hill and Sam Hunt, have spent the past four weeks waxing poetic about their favourite feathery contenders in online blogs and videos.

Throughout the month-long polling, the kiwi has been ridiculed and vilified. “Flightless national bore”, “angry” and “lame” were just some of the insults the kiwi suffered during a smear campaign.

“This forest hen is a biological oddity – it has whiskers like a cat’s, it burrows like a badger, it kicks like a kangaroo and it smells like a forest mushroom,” Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says.

“Unfortunately, it’s this odour that is one of the factors in the kiwi’s decline. It has become an easy lunch for predators like stoats, possums and particularly dogs.”

There are five types of kiwi that live in New Zealand. The rarest is the rowi, which is now found only at Okarito on the West Coast and has a population of around 350 birds.

Forest & Bird works in collaboration with BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust to reverse the population decline of this national icon.

Forest & Bird’s Bushy Park reserve in Wanganui is used as a “kiwi crèche” where kiwi chicks are raised until they are big enough to have a chance of fighting off stoat attacks in the wild. Without this intervention a high proportion of kiwi chicks are killed by these predators.

“I'm really pleased that New Zealanders have chosen kiwi, our national icon, as Bird of the Year,” kiwi campaign manager Michelle Impey of BNZ Save the Kiwi Trust says. “It's an amazing bird and represents a great nation of people. You couldn’t get a more deserving winner of Bird of the Year.”

Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year competition has been running for five years. Past winners include the tui (2005), fantail (2006), grey warbler (2007) and the kakapo (2008).

The top 10 birds in this year’s poll are:

1. Kiwi (1586 votes)
2. Rifleman (1230 votes)
3. Kea (1093 votes)
4. Kakapo (829 votes)
5. Tui (619 votes)
6. Takahe (571 votes)
7. Fernbird (462 votes)
8. Fantail ( 395 votes)
9. Karearea/native falcon (383 votes)
10. Pukeko (382 votes)

For a hi-res version of the kiwi photo, please contact Marina Skinner: m.skinner@forestandbird.org.nz