New Zealand’s favourite bird for 2019 ‘on the edge of extinction’

Wellington: One of the world's rarest penguins – the hoiho – has won the coveted title of New Zealand's bird of the year.

After two weeks of voting and frenetic campaigning on behalf of their favourite species, Kiwis have plumped for the the diminutive yellow-eyed penguin as their favourite feathered friend.

The annual poll has been run by conservation group Forest and Bird for the last 14 years – but this is the first win by a penguin or seabird.

The hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, is on the brink of extinction.

The hoiho trumped the kakapo to first place, denying the rare green parrot a second stint as the country's favourite bird.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," Hoiho campaign director Thor Elley told AAP, "although I suppose that's not a good analogy for a bird that can't fly."

The poll boasts huge buy-in across the country, with campaign teams taking on each of the birds, and prominent New Zealanders jumping on board to name their favourites.

There are an estimated 225 pairs of yellow-eyed penguins left in the wild.

Campaign teams spruik merchandise, rent billboards and create videos and memes to build support.

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern is a fan of the taiko, or black petrel, but stayed clear of personally intervening in the poll.

The kereru, a colourful wood pigeon, has been knocked off its perch after winning the competition in 2018.Credit:Forest & Bird

The reigning winner, the kereru, or wood pigeon, picked up the most endorsements but couldn't crash the top five.

Team hoiho also took advantage of a new preference voting system that allowed New Zealanders to vote for five birds, linking up with the three other penguin teams – the rockhopper, korora and tawaki – to secure preferences.

The fun poll has a serious side.

With no native land-based mammals, New Zealand has long been a haven for birds; but the arrival of Europeans brought introduced species that decimated local birdlife.

Around 80 per cent of birdlife is categorised as in trouble, with a third at serious risk of following the path of the emu-like moa into extinction.

The hoiho received more than three times as many votes as there are birds in existence.

Forest and Bird believe just 225 pairs remain on mainland New Zealand.

"They are right on the edge of extinction so we hope this win is great news for the hoiho," Forest and Bird's Megan Hubscher said.

"We've had 50,000 voting and hundreds of thousands paying attention.

"The more attention the better because a lot of their problems we can do something about."

Elley, a 21-year-old zoology student from Dunedin, said he fell for the hoiho after taking an internship to care for the bird.

The kakapo, or owl parrot, finished in the top five birds of the year for 2019.Credit:AP

"I'd never thought about penguins until I was sent down to Southland to work with them," he said.

"They're very shy. They hate people being around and it stresses them out. I can relate to them.

"They also nest in the forest. That's a bit odd."

New Zealand's top five birds

* Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin)

* Kakapo (owl parrot)

* Kakaruia (black robin)

* Ttuturiwhatu (banded dotterel)

* Piwakawaka (fantail)

AAP

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