New Zealand Was Having a Nice Bird Contest. Then Came John Oliver

'Last Week Tonight' host wins with his viral campaign to get puking bird voted 'Bird of the Century'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 15, 2023 12:46 PM CST
Updated Nov 19, 2023 3:45 PM CST
John Oliver Wrecked New Zealand's Bird of the Century Competition
A billboard at a bus stop promotes comedian John Oliver's campaign for the puteketeke to be named New Zealand's Bird of the Century on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Wellington, New Zealand.   (AP Photo/Nick Perry)

Comedian John Oliver has succeeded in his campaign to have what he describes as a weird, puking bird with a colorful mullet win New Zealand's Bird of the Century contest. As the AP reports, he even managed to elbow out the iconic national bird, the kiwi. Conservation group Forest and Bird on Wednesday announced that Oliver's favored water bird, the puteketeke, had won after Oliver went all-out in a humorous campaign for the bird on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The North Island brown kiwi came in second. Vote checkers in New Zealand were so overwhelmed by Oliver's foreign interference they had to postpone naming the winning bird for two days.

Usually billed Bird of the Year, the annual event is held to raise awareness about the plight of the nation's native birds, some of which have been driven to extinction. This year, the contest was named Bird of the Century to mark the group's centennial. Oliver discovered a loophole in the rules, which allowed anybody with a valid email address to cast a vote. Oliver had a billboard erected for "The Lord of the Wings" in New Zealand's capital, Wellington. He also put up billboards in Paris, Tokyo, London, and Mumbai, India. He had a plane with a banner fly over Ipanema Beach in Brazil. And he wore an oversized bird costume on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show. "After all, this is what democracy is all about," Oliver said on his show. "America interfering in foreign elections."

Forest and Bird didn't immediately release the final vote tally Wednesday but said the group received more than 350,000 verified votes, more than six times the previous record of 56,700 votes in 2021. They said Oliver's "high-powered" campaign temporarily crashed their voting verification system. "It's been pretty crazy, in the best possible way," said Chief Executive Nicola Toki. Oliver described how the puteketeke, which number less than 1,000 in New Zealand and are also known as the Australasian crested grebe, eats its own feathers before vomiting them back up. "They have a mating dance where they both grab a clump of wet grass and chest bump each other before standing around unsure of what to do next," Oliver said, adding that he'd never identified more with anything in his life.

(More John Oliver stories.)

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