Bat divebombing bird of the year competition

By Will Trafford

Pekapeka-tou-roa (long-tailed bat).  Photo / Department of Conservation

Pekapeka-tou-roa is batting above average on debut in the Te Manu Rongonui o te Tau/Bird of The Year competition, according to organisers.

Voting in the Forest and Bird competition which raises awareness of critically endangered species across the motu, closes tomorrow.

Admittance of the Pekapeka-tou-roa bat ruffled feathers given birds are typically prey of mammals, but Forest and Bird have shaken off the criticism saying even nocturnal creatures need their time in the limelight.

"Pekapeka are among the most seriously threatened native animals that live in Aotearoa, but yes, many people don’t even know they exist," a Forest and Bird spokesperson said.

In the age of Covid-19, bats have not had the best wrap but Forest and Bird spokesperson Lynley Hargreaves says the Pekapeka is not batting an eye over that controversy.

"I think it’s still winning, yeah, by quite a lot. We’d have to check the latest numbers, but a healthy lead," she added.

Forest and Bird has a bird (or bat) of the Year spokesperson focused on the very latest numbers but she could not be reached amid the flurry of final votes.

Hargreaves confirmed the number two and three spots as of Friday were dominated by the Kākāpō and the Kea.

The latter apparently soaring with the endorsement of East Coast Labour MP Kiritapu Allan, who wrote "I've swung in behind the bird that truly emulates the Number 8 Wire spirit," on Facebook.

Other celebrities have weighed in too, with pop singer Lorde throwing her weight behind the Kororā (Little Blue Penguin), which protestors at Waiheke’s Pūtiki Bay say is under threat by the construction of a new marina.

Round the world sailor and America’s Cup winner Blair Tuke says he is confident the ocean-going Toroa will outpace the competition, having backed the bird unsuccessfully last year.

"We’ve been really putting in the hours without our family, above the ocean," he said of the Albatros in a tweet.

Te Manu Rongonui o te Tau/ Bird of The Year has not been without its controversy over its 17-year history.

In 2019 votes flew in from Russia, spurring claims of election meddling although the votes were ultimately judged legitimate, with a representative saying interest from Russian ornithologists may have triggered the abnormalities.

In 2018 unidentified Australians hatched a plan to rig the contest in favour of the Shag, but officials cracked on to the move, ultimately eliminating 300 fraudulent votes.

A data scientist has been deployed for subsequent elections to ensure the integrity of the vote and this year representatives say they are yet to cite any irregularities.

"Overseas votes account for less than 10 percent of our current total this year and they’re mostly Kiwis abroad, we think you’ll find," the spokesperson said.

More than 30,000 voters have flocked to the Bird of the Year website ahead of the competition's closure at 5pm on Rātapu.

The winner will be announced early Monday morning.