With voting juiced by a decidedly partisan John Oliver, the puteketeke bird was crowned the “Bird of the Century” in New Zealand.
After it pulled in more than 290,000 votes, “puteketeke pandemonium prevails,” the conservation organization New Zealand Forest and Bird, announced, granting the title to the endangered water bird with a surviving population of just about about 3,000.
New Zealand’s national bird, the North Island brown kiwi, garnered just 12,904 votes, and the kea, a large, endangered parrot thought to be one of the most intelligent birds in the world, took third with 12,060 votes.
Oliver, meanwhile, took up a global campaign for the puteketeke, also known as the Australasian crested grebe, on his Nov. 12 show.
“It feels like your tongue is tap dancing,” Oliver said in the segment in which he described the fowl’s parenting and mating habits.
The campaign began after Oliver learned about the contest and unsuccessfully searched for a similar one in the U.S., he told Jimmy Fallon in an early November appearance on “The Tonight Show.” For the interview, he naturally wore a puteketeke costume mimicking the bird’s giant colorful crest.
His team at HBO reached out to Forest and Bird to confirm that anyone could campaign for a bird in the contest. “That seemed like a vulnerability in their system,” he told Fallon. “I don’t think they understood quite what they were unleashing when they said, ‘Go for it.'”
Oliver did not limit his advocacy to pumping up the puteketeke on his show, but also bought a billboard at a bus stop in Wellington, New Zealand, dubbing the creature “The Lord of the Wings.”
Then he bought additional billboards in Mumbai, Tokyo, London, Brazil, Paris and even Manitowoc, Wisconsin, because “not everyone lives in big cities,” Oliver said.
The world responded to his enthusiasm for the “weird puking birds with colorful mullets.”
“After Oliver launched this high-powered campaign, the voting verification system temporarily crashed, leading to a two-day delay to the winner announcement,” the organization said in its announcement.
There were over 350,000 votes cast in the two-week contest, which typically runs as the “Bird of the Year” and had only drawn 56,733 votes in its prior record year, 2021.
It’s not the first time that Oliver was connected with an animal from Oceania. In 2018, after attempting to prank actor Russell Crowe, the “Gladiators” star funded a clinic to treat koalas that was named the “John Oliver Koala Chlamydia Ward.”