With the exception of participation rates in political elections, New Zealand loves to engage in polling. Check any number of Stuff stories for an opportunity to have your say about anything as varied who should have won The Block, to what age children should start school. Pretty straightforward stuff, but when it comes to the choice of which bird should be given the title of Bird of the Year, that's when the feathers start to fly.
Forest & Bird has been running the bird popularity poll for seven years now, and every year sees it rise in popularity. Well-known New Zealanders line up for the chance to be campaign managers, and depending on their time and capacity, enormous campaigns designed to lobby the New Zealand online public into voting for "their" favourite bird ensue.
Some go to extraordinary lengths to campaign for their bird - none more so than Wellingtonian Jackson Wood, who joined the poll last year on a fierce campaign for the saddleback or tieke, probably now a more familiar face to Wellingtonians due to their thriving presence at Zealandia (the tieke, not Jackson, but here's his face for you anyway).
Jackson made a couple of videos, sent badges with a saddleback logo to potential voters (including me) in a shameless attempt at bribery and corruption - and in the weirdest campaign move seen in the history of Bird of the Year, he donned a saddle in Midland Park in Wellington, offering rides to (probably frightened!) punters if they would vote for his bird. This year he has cooked up all kinds of shenanigans including this video.
Bigger doesn't always mean better though. In 2007, a surprise victory for the tiny grey warbler emanated from broadcaster Graeme Hill's campaign, where he blatantly used his radio airtime to suck up more votes for the noisy wee bird and sent it hurtling to a landslide win. Graeme is back this year with a vengeance.
In the past we've had Jeremy Wells favouring the odd-looking royal spoonbill, Anton Oliver continuing to champion yellow-eyed penguins, and Sirocco the kakapo always makes the most of his international online following by pushing for kakapo (which won in 2008). How he manages to type so well with four toes always surprises me.
Last year's Bird of the Year was the much loved, sometimes maligned, fairly omnipresent pukeko. How it made it to the top is a mystery, but I suspect Genesis Energy's TV ads helped (incidentally, Genesis are behind the blue duck this year).
After the warm-up of the General Election last year, politicians will also hit the campaign trail, including National MP Nikki Kaye (kakariki), Labour MP Ruth Dyson (yellowhead), Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples (bar-tailed godwit) and Green Party co-leader Russel Norman (morepork).
This year a multitude of bird-loving Kiwis are hitting the campaign trail and nailing their colours to the mast, including;
Wellington International Ukelele orchestra - tui
Rachel Smalley (TV3) - fairy tern
Te Radar - skua
Raybon Kan - falcon
Gareth Morgan - Sooty Shearwater/titi
Jennifer Ward Lealand - kereru
Rachel Anderson Smith - kaka
Kimberley Collins - Campbell Island teal
David Slack - kokako
Steve Braunias - white-faced heron
Tim Jones - Takahe
WWF NZ - Kiwi
Genesis Energy - blue duck/whio
Co-op Bank - yellow-eyed penguin
Ogilvy - NZ Storm petrel
TB Free NZ - Robin (theme: Keep on rockin' in a predator free world)
...and many many more (too many to mention!).
You can follow their campaigning, cajoling, sledging and smack-talking attempts to win the bird popularity poll on Twitter at #birdoftheyear
I've left it until late to reveal my hand. It's time to throw my hat in the ring - the ONLY real winner for Bird of the Year must be that cheeky, brave, ubiquitous bird we all know and love - the piwakawaka or fantail. They're my personal kaitiaki, my favourite bird, and I would love it if you'd up the stakes for such a pretty player - vote FANTAIL for Bird of the Year. Seriously. But if you don't, who are you voting for and why? I'd love to hear about it.
Picture: Hayley Walmsley
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