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John Darby, a retired zoologist who started the Lake Wānaka Grebe Project more than a decade ago, said the birds must have known about the win, the way they were acting.
He had witnessed several "pub fights" taking place between the fiercely territorial birds.
"I’d come down here earlier and all I could work out was that the grebes had been drinking all night," he said.
"I think it’s been absolutely wonderful, and there has been a great response to it,"
Forest & Bird confirmed yesterday the crested grebe soared above the competition to take the title.
Following a mid-campaign boost from US talk show host John Oliver, the nationally vulnerable bird became an international sensation.
It secured 290,374 votes, close to 83% of the total votes counted.
Last year’s winner, the rock wren pīwauwau, won with only 2894 votes.
Upper Clutha community engagement co-ordinator for Southern Lakes Sanctuary Petrina Duncan, who also works on the grebe project, said the sudden spotlight had been "unexpected but fantastic".
"And that’s cool because that’s what this competition is about. It’s about raising awareness about birds you might not have heard of that need more protection or more funding."
Ms Duncan did take issue with one aspect of Mr Oliver’s electioneering — his assessment of the pūteketeke’s hairstyle.
"They do not have a mullet.
"A mullet is long at the back, short on the sides.
"These guys are long on the sides and short at the back.
"They’re very shaved up the back, I think it’s more punk, ’80s punk."
She said the grebe project aimed to use the pūteketeke’s new-found fame to work with the council and local community groups to improve the bird’s habitat. It was also working with a printing company in Dunedin to sell T-shirts to raise funds for the cause.
The final numbers
Bird of the Century 2023 top 10.—
2: North Island brown kiwi 12,904 votes
3: Kea 12,060 votes
4: Kākāpō 10,889 votes
5: Pīwakawaka fantail 7857 votes
6: Tawaki piki toka eastern rockhopper penguin 6763 votes
7: Karure/kakaruia black robin 6753 votes
8: Huia 6467 votes
9: Tūī 6457 votes
10: Takahē 6292 votes