Voter Fraud, Political Scandal And Savage Memes: It’s NZ’s Bird Of The Year Competition

New Zealand... really cares about its birds.

bird of the year

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In the dead of night early last week, a hacker logged on to stack out the vote for New Zealand’s Bird of the Year.

Utilising a random email address generator, the cunning avian aficionado got to work entering hundreds of votes for their bird of choice, the White-Faced Heron. Little did they know that someone was watching.

Over in Wellington, eagled-eyed scientist Yvan Richard was running election-monitoring software that picked up the midnight spike in votes for the white-faced heron. Analysis of that spike revealed the fraudulent voter’s fatal error: despite coming from many email addresses, 112 votes shared the same IP address, located somewhere in Christchurch. The Bird of the Year organisers were notified, and all but one of the offending votes were deleted, as per the competition’s one-vote-per-person policy.

At the time of writing, the white-faced heron has amassed only 108 legitimate votes. The current frontrunner has over 5,000.

You may be wondering why someone is running election-monitoring software on a vote for New Zealand’s best bird. There’s actually a very sensible reason: this isn’t the first time someone has tried to stack out the vote.

In 2015, two teenage girls were caught using their father’s domain name to create new email addresses with which to cast multiple votes for the kōkako. They were supposed to be studying at the time. The kōkako did not win — as then-New Zealand Labour Party leader and kārearea supporter Andrew Little said at the time, “game’s up, kōkako”.

… What?

If it’s not clear by this point, New Zealanders take the Bird of the Year vote extremely seriously. Sure, it’s an initiative run by independent conservation organisation Forest & Bird to raise awareness for threatened native birds, but it’s also so much more.

People go in to bat for their birds of choice with intense enthusiasm. “We’ve had people making videos, running serious online campaigns, designing posters, reading poetry in the street — even getting tattoos of their bird,” event coordinator Kimberley Collins told Newshub last week.

It’s not uncommon for individual birds to have campaign managers running their publicity, which is crucial given that the birds themselves can’t make sick memes.

“I’ve worked on change-making campaigns for politicians, unions, charities and NGOs, but I am most excited to work for a bird,” writes Leroy Beckett, campaign manager for the ruru (morepork), a weird looking owl. Steve Joll, radio host and campaign manager for the bellbird (korimako) focuses instead on the bird’s qualifications rather than his own.

“It’s the quintessential New Zealand bird — everything that so many other birds are, but in an understated, ‘she’ll be right’ kind of way,” he writes.

“The bellbird is green, but does not whine about the trials of being green in a Kermitty way.” Heaven forbid.

The campaigns for these birds pull out all the political stops. The kiwi appeals to nationalistic fervour (“You’ve gotta love a bird that landed in NZ, and loved it so much it gave up its ability to fly. Now that’s patriotism.”), while the korora appeals to the working class vote (“Marching out to sea each morning, returning at dusk after a hard day’s fishing — this penguin is a true blue worker”). Others just go for political puns — the tūī’s “ability to detract from the real issues with its loud and obnoxious call has seen it accused of playing the Trump card”, as its bio claims.

Some birds are even endorsed by political parties. It’s a practice that gets some people in a real flap.

Here’s a video posted to Twitter yesterday where, in a shock decision, the New Zealand Green Party threw its support behind the kererū, warning people to not split the “flappy bird vote”.

Don’t be fooled by the lighthearted memes, though — the Bird of the Year campaign also ruffles a lot of feathers. In fact, earlier this week the vote-stacking scandal gave way to a new furore over a meme page backing the black billed gull (shit choice tbh, but also I’m a fan of the Australian white ibis so who am I to cast stones), which has been publishing some pretty spicy memes slamming other birds.

Vote for the Black Bill Gull at #dollarcoinpest #goforgull #nzbirdoftheyear

A post shared by Black Billed Gull (@gullforglory) on

#blutacbeak #bushblaster #goforgull #nzbirdoftheyear vote for the Black Bill Gull at

A post shared by Black Billed Gull (@gullforglory) on

The official black billed gull campaign has taken pains to distance itself from the Instagram page lest gullible supporters think they’re into negative campaigning. Others have thrown their support behind the spicy meme stash, saying the important thing is just to win by any means.

After all, this is New Zealand’s Bird of the Year, and voting closes on Monday. Go hard, or go home.

Sam Langford is Junkee’s Staff Writer and aspiring Weird Bird Journalist. She tweets about her love of the Australian white ibis at @_slangers.