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Hay’s Daze: The bird of the century

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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. Election organizers Forest & Bird have needed to delay announcing the winner because they have been deluged with votes since Oliver began his campaign. (AP Photo/Lillie Beliveau)

Don’t you just love it when you spot a juicy headline like: “Puking Bird Wins Bird of the Century Contest”? It certainly is a lot happier than most headlines these days, and the details of the story are even better. I’m sure you all know by now that the hands-down (wings-up?) winner this year was the Puteketeke, a rare and strange fowl with a bright orange mullet and a habit of eating its own feathers to induce vomiting as a means to expel parasites. In other words, the perfect family pet!

Thing is, the Puteketeke (pronounced Poo Tecky Tecky) didn’t just win, it positively annihilated its competition which included such heavy opposition as the Tomtit, the Bar-Tailed Godwit, and the Buller’s Mollymawk. This year a stunning 350,000 votes were cast – more than six times the previous record for the contest, and the Puteketeke totally outflapped the second-place North Island Brown Kiwi and completely crashed their computer voting system.

But why - you may ask, and I’m glad you did. It’s all because of that British-speaking American rant-meister John Oliver and his popular TV show where he rails and spouts about various important topics of the day. Like Donald Trump’s hair and the New Zealand Bird of the Century contest. It seems that Mr. Oliver really liked the idea that a puking bird was in a contest and he loved its native name. “The ‘poo tecky tecky’ name does a dance in your mouth,” Oliver enthused, “It lets your tongue explore your face!” He called the Kiwi, New Zealand’s national bird, “a rat carrying a toothpick”. And when he found out that anyone in the entire world could vote he went absolutely mental. And absolutely global.

Oliver put up huge billboards promoting votes for the Puteketeke all around the world including Paris, London and Tokyo and of course, New Zealand where the weird feathered vomiter was declared ‘Lord of the Wings”. Good one, John.

I like birds as much as the next guy, although my experience is limited to a few bird feeders, Woody Woodpecker and Peek-A-Boo. Peek-A-Boo was our pet bird who perched in the kitchen and sang like, well, sang like a bird. She was a canary, I think, or possibly a budgie or maybe something else but I would whistle at her and she would warble back and she would cheer up the day.

Also, one time when I was a video journalist person I was covering the riveting Christmas Bird Count event and got a call from an acreage owner that I’d better get there fast. He had spotted a rare beast he called a “pileated woodpecker”. It’s the biggest woodpecker he told me and it’s the bird the cartoon dude Woody Woodpecker was based on, so of course I had to see for myself.

I was lucky enough to catch the pileated pecker on video and it was special indeed. Except I had fully expected him to blast out the unforgettable Woody Woodpecker laugh like on the TV show and was a bit disappointed when all he did was peck.

But back to John Oliver’s high jacking of the New Zealand bird contest. Oliver even dressed up (impressively, I might add) as a Puteketeke and appeared on The Tonight Show to showboat for votes. Great fun, but of course there’s a political side to his comedy, which is appropriate given that politics is such a gong show these days. He joked: “American money undermining a foreign election – what is more to be proud about?!”

Hmmm, I wonder what Oliver will have to dress up as to annihilate the Orangeface Fuzztop Booby in next year’s U.S. Presidential election?

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Reach out to Harley with any thoughts or ideas at harleyhay1@hotmail.com.



Byron Hackett

About the Author: Byron Hackett

I have been apart of the Red Deer Advocate Black Press Media team since 2017, starting as a sports reporter.
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