Mohua crowned Bird of the Year for 2013

The Mohua.
The Mohua.

The mohua, or yellowhead, has been crowned Bird of the Year in Forest & Bird's ninth annual poll.

The mohua won 2473 votes in total, out of 12,925 votes cast, followed by the ruru with 1716 and the southern rockhopper penguin with 1524.

Forest & Bird's advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the mohua had been one of the most abundant forest birds in the South Island and Stewart Island, but is now on the endangered species list, due to habitat loss, predation and climate change.

"The mohua is a climate change canary,'' he said.

"Populations have suffered recently because a series of warm summers have caused beech trees to mast (produce large volumes of seeds) more frequently. In mast years, you see a spike in rat numbers, which eat the beech seed. This in turn causes a spike in stoat numbers, which eat the rats. Once the rats are eaten, the stoats go looking for alternative food, such as mohua, and other native birds''.

Using the tagline ``vote mohua, not monorail,'' Green Party co-leader and mohua campaigner Metiria Turei led the campaign for the little-known bird that now mainly lives in forest patches in Fiordland, Southland and Otago.

As well as suffering from predation and competition, the mohua's population has been reduced by habitat loss, something that will not be helped by the proposed Fiordland monorail, Mr Hackwell said.

Work has been done recently to improve the mohua's chances of survival.

Forest & Bird's southern branches were instrumental in saving a dying population of mohua in the Catlins by helping to kick start a DOC-run 1080 rat control programme.

Now mohua are thriving there, and the area has one of the largest populations of the bird.

Runners-up in the Bird of the Year poll was the ruru, which was backed by Dunedin's Tainui school, and the southern rockhopper penguin, championed by Playcentre New Zealand.

The native bird that polled most poorly was the skua.

``Maybe the reason it did so poorly is that it is a pretty cheeky generalist predator and scavenger,'' Mr Hackwell said.

***

Bird of the Year 2013 - Top 10

1. Mohua (2,473)

2. Ruru (1,716)

3. Southern rockhopper penguin (1,524)

4. Kea (625)

5. Albatross (544)

6. Kakapo (396)

7. Fairy tern (380)

8. Bellbird (340)

9. Kokako (332)

10. Kaka (321)

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Bird of the Year previous winners:

2012: Karearea

2011: Pukeko

2010: Kakariki

2009: Kiwi

2008: Kakapo

2007: Grey warbler

2006: Fantail

2005: Tui

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