New Zealand bird of the year: adult toy store endorses 'polyamorous' hihi

Small bird with unusually large testes receives a boost as competition is also rocked by vote-rigging row

The competition to elect New Zealand’s bird of the year has intensified with a vote-rigging scandal and an adult toy store endorsing a small, polyamorous bird with unusually large testes.

The annual competition, which began 15 years ago to draw attention to native birds, many of which are endangered, has grown into a national obsession. Different types of birds have their own campaign managers and the competition is so fierce that this year has seen record early voting – with 40,000 ballots cast so far and five days still remaining

The poll’s success has attracted commercial interests, such as the endorsement this week by Adult Toy Megastore of the hihi, a “polyamorous, sexually fluid bird with big testicles”.

The hihi, or stitchbird, is the only bird in the world to mate face to face, according to a statement released by Adult Toy Megastore as part of its campaign endorsement.

“We are proud to endorse the hihi for bird of the year 2020. Hihi lead the sex positivity movement among songbirds and for that we salute them and say to you: VOTE HIHI.

“Male and female hihi practice consensual polyamory [the practice of intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners] which is rare.

“Male hihi have testicles four times larger than they should be making them, by size, the largest testicles on a bird in the world!… How could you not vote for them?”

Claims of consensual polyamory, however, were contradicted by a 2004 university thesis which found “male stitchbirds seem to be able to bypass female choice through adopting a face to face forced copulation position”.

Massey University zoologist, Isabel Castro, who studied hihi mating systems, found they had a reproductive flexibility with few peers among perching birds. They can be found in conventional pairings or in breeding groups, Castro told NZ Geographic magazine. The group might consist of one male and several females, or in some cases one female may have several males in attendance.

Hihi are the third member, after the tui and bellbird, of the local branch of the honeyeater family. It has come perilously close to extinction in the past and is currently classified by bird of the year organisers as “in some trouble”.

The bird of the year competition is no stranger to skullduggery, with organisers announcing on Tuesday they had discovered more than 1,500 fraudulent votes for the Kiwi pukupuku, or little-spotted kiwi, cast in the dead of Monday night.

A kakapo, currently leading the field in the competition
A kakapo, currently leading the field in the competition Photograph: Andrew Digby/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s lucky we spotted this little kiwi trying to sneak in an extra 1,500 votes under the cover of darkness!” said Laura Keown, spokesperson for bird of the year.

“All of our birds deserve a fighting chance, especially this little manu, our smallest kiwi, which is so threatened by predators that it is extinct on mainland New Zealand outside of predator-free sanctuaries.”

The kiwi pukupuku campaign manager, Emma Rawson, said voter fraud was not the Kiwi way. “As Aotearoa’s national emblem, the little-spotted kiwi represents New Zealanders’ values of democracy, fairness, equality, and honesty.”

The competition has made household names of many of the country’s feathered characters: the kea, or alpine thief, the kereru, or large drunkard, and now it seems it could be the “horny” hihi, one of New Zealand’s rarest birds.

Prominent voters in the competition include former premier, Helen Clark (a fan of the hoiho/ yellow-eyed penguin), and current prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who is said to again be backing the black petrel or “the bogan bird” as she refers to it because it dresses in black.

Early voting has the toroa (Antipodean albatross) and the kakapo, a heavy flightless parrot, leading the field with the final result unlikely to be known until the competition’s complex preferential voting system is worked through.

• This story was amended on 11 November 2020 to make clear that birds have internal testes.


Phil Taylor in Auckland

The GuardianTramp

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