New Zealand held a Bird of the Century competition. John Oliver got ‘puking bird’ puteketeke to win, ahead of the kiwi

Oliver discovered a loophole in the rules, which allowed anybody with a valid email address to cast a vote.

Oliver had a billboard erected for “The Lord of the Wings” in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. He also put up billboards in Paris, Tokyo, London, and Mumbai, India. He had a plane with a banner fly over Ipanema Beach in Brazil. And he wore an oversized bird costume on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show.

“After all, this is what democracy is all about,” Oliver said on his show. “America interfering in foreign elections.”

A billboard at a bus stop promotes comedian John Oliver’s campaign for the pūteketeke to be named New Zealand’s Bird of the Century. Photo: AP

Forest and Bird didn’t immediately release the final vote tally on Wednesday but said the group received more than 350,000 verified votes, more than six times the previous record of 56,700 votes in 2021.

They said Oliver’s “high-powered” campaign temporarily crashed their voting verification system.

“It’s been pretty crazy, in the best possible way,” Chief Executive Nicola Toki said before the winner was announced.

New Zealand is unusual in that birds developed as the dominant animals before humans arrived.

“If you think about the wildlife in New Zealand, we don’t have lions and tigers and bears,” Toki said. Despite nearly nine of every 10 New Zealanders now living in towns or cities, she added, many retain a deep love of nature.

“We have this intangible and extraordinarily powerful connection to our wildlife and our birds,” Toki said.

Comedian John Oliver performs during the 11th Annual Stand Up for Heroes benefit. The Last Week Tonight host successfully campaigned to have the puteketeke named Bird of the Century. Photo: AP

The contest has survived previous controversies. Election scrutineers in 2020 discovered about 1,500 fraudulent votes for the little spotted kiwi. And two years ago, the contest was won by a bat, which was allowed because it was considered part of the bird family by Indigenous Māori.

This year, the organisers said they eliminated more fraudulent votes, including 40,000 cast by a single person for the eastern rockhopper penguin.

Toki said that when the contest began in 2005, they had a total of 865 votes, which they considered a great success. She said the previous record vote count was broken within a couple of hours of Oliver launching his campaign.

Toki said Oliver contacted the group earlier this year asking if he could champion a bird. They had told him to go for it, not realising what was to come.

“I was cry laughing,” Toki said when she watched Oliver’s segment.

Oliver described how the puteketeke, which number less than 1,000 in New Zealand and are also known as the Australasian crested grebe, eats its own feathers before vomiting them back up.

The reason it is so easy for me to say that is that we aren’t going to lose, are we? We are going to win, and we are going to win by a lot

John Oliver, comedien

“They have a mating dance where they both grab a clump of wet grass and chest bump each other before standing around unsure of what to do next,” Oliver said on his show, adding that he’d never identified more with anything in his life.

Some in New Zealand pushed back against Oliver’s campaign. One group put up billboards reading: “Dear John, don’t disrupt the pecking order,” while others urged people to vote for the kiwi. Oliver responded by saying the kiwi looked like “a rat carrying a toothpick.”

“For the record, all of your birds are great, and it would be an honour to lose to any of them when the results are announced on Wednesday,” Oliver said on his show. “The reason it is so easy for me to say that is that we aren’t going to lose, are we? We are going to win, and we are going to win by a lot.”

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