Grey warbler drab but beautiful

HELPFUL: the grey warbler, right, feeds a shining cuckoo chick.
HELPFUL: the grey warbler, right, feeds a shining cuckoo chick.

A bird described as small and drab has beaten flashier favourites, the fantail and the tui, to be named New Zealand's bird of the year.

Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the grey warbler was the surprise recipient of the title of New Zealand's best-loved bird. The small, drab, grey insectivores – known as the riroriro – beat favourites such as the fantail and the tui in the annual vote.

Hackwell said it was great to see the more "subtle charms" of the grey warbler take top spot.

The results of the annual Forest and Bird poll for the Bird of the Year came after an Auckland radio presenter launched a PR campaign for the littlest contender. Graeme Hill's campaign sent the grey warbler from fifth place to first in the last days of the internet voting, which closed yesterday.

"People call grey warblers dull, but they're the subconscious sound of New Zealand."

Hill complained when the wood pigeon – "that big fat green doofus" – was leading the vote, and called for votes for the warblers.

Found throughout New Zealand, the grey warbler is our lightest bird (equal with the rifleman) measuring 11cm in length and weighing 6.5g, one-third the weight of a mouse.