Following John Oliver’s successful push to get the pūteketeke crowned “bird of the century” by a New Zealand conservation organization, the comedian has been spotted hitching a ride on the back of the distinctive-looking avian.
He’s not piggybacking on an actual pūteketeke, of course. That would just be awkward. As Mashable reports, Oliver’s HBO news show Last Week Tonight has teamed with a maker of metal birds for a sculpture that immortalizes Oliver’s humorous campaign on behalf of the Australasian crested grebe. His self-described “alarmingly aggressive” effort to swing the international public vote in favor of the diving waterbird included ads all over New Zealand dubbing it the “Lord of the Wings,” and billboards in the U.K, Paris, Tokyo and beyond.
The British-American performer also dressed as the pūteketeke for an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where Oliver’s giant feathered headdress made it a tad tricky for him to turn his head from side to side as he crowed the bird’s praises.
“After a campaign that will go down in history, the pūteketeke came out of nowhere to snag the coveted bird of the century crown atop its burnt-orange mullet,” Forest & Bird, the organization that sponsors the race for bird of the year (upgraded to bird of the century this year) announced last week. F&B notes that the pūteketeke is the first lake bird to win the title, and it credits Oliver with propelling it into the top spot.
The steel sculpture from Metalbird depicts a pūteketeke flaunting its signature double crest and cheek frills. The metal bird measures 14.5 inches high by 14 inches wide, weighs about 8 ounces and goes for $74.99. Oliver is available as a clip-on that can be placed atop the bird for $19.99. Metalbird creates a silhouette of Forest & Bird’s avian of the year annually, and in a move that’s quite literally for the birds, directs 30% of proceeds to the organization, which advocates for threatened species and has run the contest since 2005.
The pūteketeke, which is among many native New Zealand birds under threat, is classified as “nationally vulnerable,” with a population estimated at less than a thousand. The perils the bird faces, according to an online encyclopedia of New Zealand birds, include loss of shoreline nesting habitat, hydro-electric power schemes and power boating and other recreational activities that disturb lakes.
The species isn’t faring any better in Australia—its combined population across the two countries is thought to be less than 3,000—though the bird’s numbers are increasing due to conservation efforts such as the Lake Wanaka Grebes project, which helps the adorable birds breed and thrive in New Zealand.
“They puke, they do a ‘weed’ dance before mating, they have great hair and there are fewer than 1,000 of them left in New Zealand,” Oliver’s team wrote of the bird. Oliver chose it as his top pick from dozens of other candidates for bird of the century.
“We’re not surprised these charming characteristics caught the eye of an influential bird enthusiast with a massive following,” Forest & Bird Chief Executive Nicola Toki said in a statement last week that announced the winner and declared that “pūteketeke pandemonium” had prevailed.
The comedian indeed turned out to be the best PR rep pūteketekes could hope for. After Oliver launched his campaign, Forest & Bird’s voting verification system temporarily crashed due to an unprecedented number of votes, leading to a two-day delay of the winner’s announcement. In the end, the pūteketeke pulled in upward of 290,000 votes, more than 277,000 more than the second-place winner, the North Island brown kiwi.
The pūteketeke push did ruffle the feathers of a few bird enthusiasts who wanted other species to win the title and therefore didn’t appreciate Oliver’s massive sway over the results.
Oliver, however, insisted his avian advocacy reflected a U.S. resident going about business as usual. “This,” he joked, “is what democracy is all about. America interfering in foreign elections.”