John Oliver-Backed Puking Pūteketeke Wins New Zealand Bird of the Century Poll

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John Oliver bird John Oliver bird.jpg - Credit: Todd Owyoung/NBC/Getty Images
John Oliver bird John Oliver bird.jpg - Credit: Todd Owyoung/NBC/Getty Images

Forest and Bird, the conservation group committed to defending nature across New Zealand, had everything planned out for its 100th anniversary celebration. They would — as they do annually — open up the vote for the Bird of the Year, this time billed as Bird of the Century. There would be keynote speakers, concert events, and museum exhibitions. What they didn’t plan for, however, were the additional days they would need to count the hundreds of thousands of votes they received for New Zealand’s best bird after John Oliver exposed a loophole in the voting process on a recent episode of Last Week Tonight.

“I don’t just want Pūteketeke to win, I want it to win in the biggest landslide in the history of this magnificent competition,” Oliver said on his show, urging his viewers to rally around the puking Australasian crested grebe and its mullet. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is listed as the bird’s official campaign manager on the Bird of the Year webpage, which insists that “the Pūteketeke isn’t just a bird cooler than any of us could ever hope to be — it’s a bird that needs our help.”

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Unsurprisingly, Oliver’s campaign was successful, with the Pūteketeke receiving a whopping 290,374 votes. That total completely dwarfed the poll’s runner-up, the North Island brown kiwi, which received a paltry 12,904 votes.

“Pūteketeke began as an outside contender for Bird of the Century but was catapulted to the top spot thanks to its unique looks, adorable parenting style, and propensity for puking,” Forest and Bird’s chief executive Nicola Toki, said in a statement. “We’re not surprised these charming characteristics caught the eye of an influential bird enthusiast with a massive following.”

How could you argue with such an ugly animal? You can’t, which is exactly how Oliver roped everyone into his campaign. He has no business in New Zealand, nor do most of the voters, probably — he posted “Lord of the Wings” billboards in India, Tokyo, Brazil, the U.K., France, and a town in Wisconsin. But he did discover rules that found anyone with a valid email address eligible to cast a vote. “After all, this is what democracy is all about,” Oliver said. “America interfering in foreign elections.”

The other campaign managers, used to competing with one another within New Zealand, were less than thrilled about Oliver inserting himself in their bird activities. “It really ruffles the feathers of the integrity of the bird of the year campaign,” Matuhituhi campaign manager Michael Burton-Smith told New Zealand’s TVNZ 1. “We’re just encouraging New Zealanders to put their support behind an Aotearoa-based campaign.” The Hoiho campaign manager Jamie Martin condemned the Pūteketeke campaign on the basis that it could be found in Australia, too. Oliver has even been accused of hating birds by Save the Kiwi’s Erin Reilly.

“How dare you say I don’t like birds. I love them, I just don’t like your bird because it looks like Donkey Kong’s hairy testicle. It looks like a rat carrying a toothpick,” the host said on a more recent episode of Last Week Tonight. Plus, if he really hated birds so much, why would he have dressed up as one to extend his admittedly deranged campaign during an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon last week?

“I talk about you so much because you’re the most fascinating country on Earth,” Oliver added. “You hold bird contests, you sometimes throw dildos at your politicians, you let your people submit images like this (laser kiwi) for your national flag. You’re an endless well of joy.”

The Forest and Bird vote counters are still sorting through their submissions for Bird of the Century. They initially planned to have their count in shortly after the deadline closed on Sunday — the bird that won last year received under 3,000 votes — but now expect to have a definitive bird selected by Wednesday.

“It’s been pretty crazy, in the best possible way,” Chief Executive Nicola Toki told Associated Press. “If you think about the wildlife in New Zealand, we don’t have lions and tigers and bears. We have this intangible and extraordinarily powerful connection to our wildlife and our birds.”

This story was updated on 11/15/23 @ 10 a.m. ET after the results of the Bird of the Century poll were released.

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