Meet the Kākāpo, Winner of New Zealand’s Bird of the Year Award

Meet the Kākāpo, Winner of New Zealand’s Bird of the Year Award
Image: New Zealan Department of Conservation

In an election to rival all others this year, New Zealand has announced its Bird of the Year winner for 2020. The flightless parrot, the kākāpo, has taken out the top spot on the avian ladder for the second year time.

The Kākāpo

So what do you need to know about this feathered friend who now rules us all?

The kākāpo is a large green parrot and is sometimes referred to as the “mighty moss chicken”. Aptly named the kākāpo is flightless, nocturnal and is also the world’s heaviest parrot. They are also thought to be the longest living parrot species, with scientists thinking they can live up to 60 years, according to The Guardian.

The kākāpo used to inhabit locations all around New Zealand but now only survive on predator-free islands. Part of the reason may be because the kākāpo has such few defence mechanisms. “The things that make kākāpō unique also make them vulnerable to threats. They are slow breeders, they nest on the ground and their main defence is to imitate a shrub,” said Laura Keown, a spokesperson for the competition.

The kākāpō evolved from living on an island of birds to environments filled with introduced predators, like cats. And while acting like a shrub may have fooled other birds, it sadly doesn’t cut it anymore.

The kākāpo population stood at only 50 birds during the 1990s, but thanks to recent conservation efforts that number has risen to 213.

The kākāpo birds became famous a decade ago after one attempted to mate with a zoologists head, a feat that likely funnelled many votes its way.

How do the Bird of the Year Awards work?

New Zealand’s Bird of the Year Awards exist to help bring awareness to some of the country’s endangered bird species.

The voting process allows users to rank their selection of five birds. The system is similar to the one used in voting for the New Zealand election. The IRV system allocates preferences with each round eliminating the bird with the lowest number of votes. The ranked-choice of those who voted for the eliminated bird are added to the totals of the remaining birds.

Would you believe, however, that the US election isn’t the only one with accusations of vote tampering? That’s right Bird of the Year officials had to disqualify 1,500 votes after they were found to be cast from the same IP address at 3am in the morning. The votes were all for the small kiwi species, kiwi pukupuku, which also happens to be another flightless bird.

Coming close to the top spot was the antipodean albatross, which won the most first-choice votes at 55,000. But under the competition’s preferential vote system the kākāpo came through as the winner. The similarities to a certain recent election didn’t escape readers on the internet:

The kākāpo is the only bird in the awards’ fifteen-year history that has won twice.