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Keep calm and go birdwatching

Saturday October 26, 2019 Written by Published in Environment
A baby frigatebird. 19102574 A baby frigatebird. 19102574

It’s that time of year again for the Bird of the Year Competition! 


From tomorrow, bird enthusiasts across New Zealand will flock to the online polls for one of the most eagerly anticipated and fiercely contested events on a New Zealand bird enthusiast’s calendar. 

Will the defending title holder, the kereru (wood pigeon) retain its crown? Or will it again make international headlines for its penchant for getting tipsy on fermented berries and falling out of trees?

Perhaps the young fantailed challenger the piwakawaka will swoop in to steal the glory? Saving us all from another drunken kereru acceptance speech.

The NZ Forest and Bird annual event, now in its 14th year, galvanises New Zealanders – they really get into it. 

There are social media campaigns, celebrity endorsements and even birdy smear campaigns.

However, underneath all the fun and skulduggery that this popular event inspires, there is a strong conservation message about native birds, their habitats and the threats they face. 

Here in the Cook Islands we are blessed with some amazing birdlife.  Perhaps the time has come for a Cook Islands Bird of the Year competition? Not to be confused with tonight’s Miss Cook Islands pageant! 

Seriously, which chick will you choose?

What about a vote for the impressive, migratory Teue (Bristle Thighed Curlew)? Ok, so perhaps not technically ours given it breeds in Alaska but we’re claiming it because it has a cool bent beak and it likes to come here for winter holidays. 

This medium-sized, unassuming, brown bird can fly an astonishing 6000 km and is often found sunning itself on atolls such as Tongareva and Suwarrow, or on Takutea, enjoying the tasty shoreline treats.

How about sparing a sympathy vote for our seabirds, like tropic birds, petrels, noddies, and boobies?  No one ever votes for the seabirds.  Perhaps they have been unfairly associated with that scavenger and scourge of the land and sea, the widely distrusted common seagull (which thankfully, we don’t have in the Cook Islands). 

Some of the birds in the Cook Islands are endemic, meaning they are only naturally found here in the world and nowhere else. 

Astonishingly, some are found only on individual islands.  For example, the kakerori (flycatcher/monarch), and the I’oi (starling) are only naturally found in Rarotonga. The tanga’eo (kingfisher) is only found on Mangaia, and the kopeka (swiftlet) is only found on Atiu.  

My personal favourite is the Rarotonga I’oi. This shy guy with the bright yellow eyes and melodious song used to be abundant in the coastal lowlands of Rarotonga.  Now, with the loss of suitable habitat, the I’oi hides away in the rugged interior.

Of course, this introverted birdy behaviour is also likely due to the bully boy tactics of the dirtbag myna bird, introduced in 1915 to control the coconut stick-insect. The myna has most definitely not been invited to participate in this year’s Bird of the Year competition, despite rumours you may have heard to the contrary (rumours we suspect started by the myna bird itself).  Don’t let the bullies win.  Be like Napoleon Dynamite and vote for I’oi!

And of course then there is the nurturing soft and colourful kukupa (fruit dove) which I am certain would give the best birdy cuddles.  So many cool Cook Island birds – what could the final pecking order be? 

Kate McKessar

Te Ipukarea
Society opinion