Feathers fly over Bird Of The Year race

By Hayden Donnell

Should the White Faced Heron (left) or the Kokako be New Zealand's Bird of the Year? You decide! File photo / NZ Herald
Should the White Faced Heron (left) or the Kokako be New Zealand's Bird of the Year? You decide! File photo / NZ Herald

Heated and fiercely fought political campaigns are playing out as high profile New Zealanders jostle for position in the annual Bird of the Year competition.

Writer Steve Braunias is one of the 'campaign managers' charged with promoting their feathered nominee and denigrating their rivals in the competition run by Forest and Bird.

He is angry - about ego triumphing over quality, our lack of appreciation for the beautiful things around us, and above all, he is angry his friend David Slack is succeeding in his campaign to see the Kokako crowned as the competition winner.

"A victory for stupidity," said Braunias.

"It's people voting on their feelings about birds that they never actually see. Slack - he spends hours per day boring people to death on Twitter about the bloody Kokako. It's all about ego. People are in love with themselves. They don't have feelings for birds."

Slack had a simple retort.

"You can't believe anything Steve says.. Steve has always been a champion of mediocrity."

Forest and Bird started running the annual Bird of the Year competition eight years ago in the hope of gaining more publicity for the plight of New Zealand's endangered native species.

Over time it has become a heated battle for avian supremacy, with poets, politicians, media personalities and conservationists becoming bird campaign managers and clamouring for votes in social media campaigns.

This year is shaping up as the hardest fought competition ever, complete with what Braunias believes are all the trappings of a "US Presidential campaign".

The bird he decided to champion - the common, fish pond-raiding White Faced Heron - is faltering with just 10 of the 3500 ballots cast so far.

Slack, a Devonport writer charged with championing the case of the Kokako, is the competition frontrunner with more than 300 votes.

His decision to back the bird dubbed the "songster of the forest" has its roots in an impressive sighting during a trip to the Hauraki Gulf bird sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi.

"I had never seen one before and it looked like a jet from outer space, with this remarkable black mark above its beak and blue below."

Slack says the Kokako would likely replace the Kiwi as our national emblem if we were to choose again today.

Green Party leader Russel Norman is also a Bird of the Year front runner, with his nominee the Ruru/Morepork sitting on 220 votes.

On the phone to the Herald, Norman strikes an egalitarian tone when making the case for the Ruru to win.

It is known as the guardian of the forest and endangered New Zealand native birds need all the protection they can get, he says.

However, his words stand in stark contrast to a series of Tweets he sent after launching his campaign on September 11.

"As for kereru for bird of the year, some things are good for eating, and that's it," he said.

He went on to say: "Ruru finds that fantails.... Are good flossing with after a hearty meal of kakapo."

"That was talking about individual birds that may fall victim to the Ruru," he explains. "The Ruru is not a bird that's just going to sit there and take it."

Norman has also released a split-screen campaign billboard with a Ruru covering one half and his face covering the other.

"In the modern campaigning era the candidate is important but the campaign manager plays a critical role as well," he says.

The competition polls are set to close on October 10 and until then insults and promises will inevitably continue to fly.

NZ Drug Foundation communications man Jackson James Wood is offering free haikus to anyone who votes for the Tieke - or Saddleback.

Slack is promising to stop using foul language in exchange for more Kokako ballots.

Braunias remains unimpressed, vowing to never agree again to serve as a campaign manager for Bird of the Year.

"You know I won't again. I could do without the aggravation and the smugness of that f*****t Slack."

Bird of the Year campaign pitches:

Kokako

"If you can gaze upon the Kokako for even a moment you will be spellbound and if you hear its song you will never forget it."

- David Slack

Ruru/Morepork

"Vote for the guardian of the forest."

- Russel Norman

White Faced Heron

"You will see it mentioned in particularly observant poetry by CK Stead and Allen Curnow. These are people that live in Auckland. These are people who take interest in the things around them."

- Steve Braunias

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