What started as innocuous good fun has evolved into a national obsession, complete with voter fraud, skulduggery and high passions
Tue 5 Nov 2019 11.12 GMTLast modified on Wed 6 Nov 2019 00.51 GMT
The data team picked up on them first – 310 “dubious” votes from an IP address in Australia, sending one trend line suddenly, suspiciously skyward above the others. Something funny was going on with the shag.
Of course, by then – the 13th year of the competition – organisers knew to expect dodgy dealings in New Zealand’s bird of the year poll.
If a nationwide vote to name a favourite native bird sounds like innocuous good fun – a creative means of celebrating unique, threatened fauna – you may be underestimating bird of the year. Coordinated by the Royal Forest & Bird Society, an environmental nongovernmental organisation, it is often described as the country’s most important election – second only to, you know, the actual elections. Since 2017, too, it has had the same validation as two other Kiwi creations, pavlova and Russell Crowe: Australia has tried to pass it off as its own.
From a total of 900 votes received (some by post) in the first vote in 2005, bird of the year has grown to about 28,000 in 2015 and more than 48,000 in 2018 – nearly double the number that just elected the mayor of Wellington.
For this year’s competition, voting has been changed to proportional representation, allowing five choices, owing to persistent feedback that it was “too hard for people to choose just one bird”, according to a Forest & Bird spokeswoman, Megan Hubscher. “We’re seeing some interesting campaign strategies starting to take shape around that as well – for example, the penguin species are grouping together to campaign for ‘five ticks to penguins’.”