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The Puteketeke bird has been elected as New Zealand's Bird of the Century

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And now a story about foreign influence on a national election, but probably not what you're thinking. New Zealand's Bird of the Century was announced today after a two-week campaign that pitted many of the country's native birds against each other.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now, despite the name, Bird of the Century is actually an annual contest. And this year, it got a little bit out of control.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

JOHN OLIVER: New Zealand's contest is not actually restricted to just New Zealand.

(LAUGHTER)

OLIVER: Anyone in the world can vote as long as they have a valid email. And not just that...

SHAPIRO: Yeah, comedian and "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver got involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

OLIVER: ...As the official campaign manager for what we believe to be the best candidate for New Zealand's bird of the century. I'm talking, of course, about the puteketeke.

CHANG: Now, that's a water bird with a big mane of feathers around its head. The New Zealand Department of Conservation describes its call as a kind of growl.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUTEKETEKE GROWLING)

CHANG: It also exhibits some unusual antics, like eating feathers to help it vomit up parasites, or...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LAST WEEK TONIGHT WITH JOHN OLIVER")

OLIVER: They have a mating dance where they both grab a clump of wet grass and chest bump each other...

(LAUGHTER)

OLIVER: ...Before standing around unsure of what to do next.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Now, to be fair, the contest organizer, the conservation group Forest & Bird, did encourage people to campaign for their favorite bird, but they might not have imagined what John Oliver had in mind. His show bought billboards in Tokyo, Mumbai, Paris, London, even a small town in Wisconsin...

CHANG: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: ...To sway the vote for the puteketeke, which Oliver dubbed the lord of the wings.

CHANG: A record 350,000 ballots poured in from 195 countries. And the result?

(SOUNDBITE OF PUTEKETEKE GROWLING)

CHANG: The puteketeke won by a landslide.

RYAN MANDELBAUM: It's sort of a come-from-behind bird, for sure. I would say that if you thought about New Zealand birds, the first thing you'd think of is the kiwi, the kea. And then they also have this big, fat pigeon who won a couple of years ago.

SHAPIRO: Science writer and naturalist Ryan Mandelbaum voted for that big, fat pigeon. And even though the pigeon didn't win, Mandelbaum says all this global interest is a win in and of itself.

MANDELBAUM: It's gotten people paying attention to the birds of New Zealand from all around the world, and hopefully it kind of leads to more conservation of these birds.

CHANG: An unusual happy ending to a story about election interference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUTEKETEKE GROWLING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kat Lonsdorf
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.