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A Bat Could Fly Away With New Zealand’s Bird of the Year Award

A spooky nominee enters the race in this year's competition.

long-tailed bat

New Zealand’s Bird of the Year award is currently the subject of an adorably spooky controversy, thanks to the inclusion of a species of native bat among the nominees. The long-tailed bat, or pekapeka-tou-roa, was included on the ballot of this year’s birds despite being mammal. But lest you think this is some sort of Halloween cross-promotion, the bat’s nomination is in fact an effort to raise awareness of the critically endangered species. Bats are New Zealand’s only native land mammal and the pekapeka-tou-roa is just one of two surviving species in the country.

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Laura Keown, a spokesperson from conservation organization Forest & Bird, said “Since ‘mammal of the year’ was going to be a very boring competition we kind of decided to throw the bat among the pigeons and ruffle some feathers, … We’ve got these critically endangered bats, they only come out a night … they’re silent, they’re quite invisible to people, sometimes they can live adjacent to cities and people often don’t even know they’re there.” She continued, “The idea has been rattling around for a while but perhaps our only native land mammals could be included in the competition because they are also in serious trouble.”

But the furry nominee brings with it plenty of controversy, especially from diehard birders who steadfastly maintain that the bat has no business being in competition with birds. Naturally, these folks took to social media to air their grievances:

And so far, the bat is flapping away with the competition. “It’s winning overall, yeah,” said Keown. “Actually, when you look at the number one and number two rankings, it’s not winning by a little. It’s winning by quite a lot.”

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first controversy to hit New Zealand’s Bird of the Year awards. In 2019, the organization saw accusations of election tampering after receiving hundreds of votes from Russia (no word on Facebook or Cambridge Analytica’s involvement). The votes were ultimately deemed legitimate after it was revealed that the voters were likely birding fans from Russia, who share many of the same bird species. Forest & Bird said, “New Zealand actually shares birds with Russia, … We have the bar-tailed godwit that makes an annual round trip.”

In 2018, the contest was similarly flooded by Australian voters, who wanted to ensure a win for the shag bird, because “shag” is a euphemism for sex. Stay classy, Australians! Voting for Bird of the Year ends tomorrow, so be sure to cast your vote!

(via The Guardian, image: Department of Conservation NZ)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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