New Zealand’s Pūteketeke Crowned the ‘Bird of the Century’

This strangely charming bird came in first in competition but it had some help along the way.

Dec 10, 2023


The mating dance of the pūteketeke.

(Rostislav Stach /

John Oliver, host of HBO’s late night show, Last Week Tonight, is known, among other things, for his quirky take on the news. One need not look farther than his championing of the pūteketeke in New Zealand’s “Bird of the Century” contest, leading the bird to a runaway victory with 290,000 votes, reported CNN. An unprecedented amount of people from around the world voted.

A very strange bird
The pūteketeke is a type of native New Zealand water bird. It is known for the distinctive noises it makes, from growling, to clicking, to barking, as well as its propensity to puke which helps it to get rid of parasites, according to an NPR interview with John Oliver.

New Zealand is no stranger to strange birds. The national bird, the kiwi, is a unique and curious flightless bird, according to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation. And indeed, they do look quite a bit like the oblong fuzzy fruits that are named after them. 

However, the pūteketeke has many and varied strange characteristics and these are what caught Oliver’s attention. According to the NPR interview he was delighted by their strange mating dance involving wet grass and chest bumps and then just standing around unsure of what to do next. These are the characteristics that caught his eye.

Not only for fun
New Zealand’s Bird of the Century contest, launched in 2005 and is a good bit of fun, it has a serious goal, reported CNN. The contest brings attention to native bird species that are endangered and on the brink of extinction.

The pūteketeke is no exception. There are only about 1,000 birds remaining in New Zealand, and less than 3,000 in Australia. Those are dangerously low numbers. 

According to NPR, in order to draw attention to the bird, Oliver bought billboards all over the world, from Tokyo to Wisconsin, relying on the fact that though the contest is a New Zealand contest, voters can vote from anywhere in the world. The more famous the bird becomes, the greater the push to invest in its conservation, or at least that is the hope. 

Creativity is key when it comes to the campaign to conserve endangered species. Though a Bird of the Century contest could seem a little silly, it can actually do a lot of good in turning people’s attention to the vital conservation work that needs to be done.

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Tiki is a freelance writer, editor, and translator with a passion for writing stories. She believes in taking small actions to positively impact the world. She spends her free time reading, baking, creating art, and walking her rescue dog.