Rare penguin named NZ's favourite bird

The endangered hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, has been voted New Zealand's favourite bird.
The endangered hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, has been voted New Zealand's favourite bird.

One of the world's rarest penguins - the hoiho - has won the coveted title of New Zealand's bird of the year.

After two weeks of voting and frenetic campaigning on behalf of their favourite species, Kiwis have plumped for the the diminutive yellow-eyed penguin as their favourite feathered friend.

The annual poll has been run by conservation group Forest and Bird for the last 14 years - but this is the first win by a penguin or seabird.

The hoiho trumped the kakapo to first place, denying the rare green parrot a second stint as the country's favourite bird.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," Hoiho campaign director Thor Elley told AAP, "although I suppose that's not a good analogy for a bird that can't fly."

The poll boasts huge buy-in across the country, with campaign teams taking on each of the birds, and prominent New Zealanders jumping on board to name their favourites.

Campaign teams spruik merchandise, rent billboards and create videos and memes to build support.

In keeping with the poll's stature, prime minister Jacinda Ardern was asked about the win on Monday afternoon at her weekly press conference.

"I feel inclined to congratulate the winner given it's the first seabird that's taken out top honours," she said.

"Many of you will know my long standing commitment and support for the black petrel, so I'm hoping that this is paving the way for a future win for the black petrel."

Last year's winner, the kereru, or wood pigeon, picked up the most political endorsements but couldn't crash the top five.

Team hoiho also took advantage of a new voting system that allowed New Zealanders to vote for five birds, linking up with the three other penguin teams - the rockhopper, korora and tawaki - to secure preferences.

The irreverent poll has a serious side.

With no native land-based mammals, New Zealand has long been a haven for birds; but the arrival of Europeans brought introduced species that decimated local birdlife.

Around 80 per cent of birdlife is categorised as in trouble, with a third at serious risk of following a path into extinction, already trodden by the emu-like moa.

The hoiho received over three times as many votes as there are birds in existence.

Forest and Bird believe just 225 pairs remain on mainland New Zealand.

"They are right on the edge of extinction so we hope this win is great news for the hoiho," Forest and Bird's Megan Hubscher said.

"We've had 50,000 voting and hundreds of thousands paying attention.

"The more attention the better because a lot of their problems we can do something about."

Elley, a 21-year-old zoology student from Dunedin, said he fell for the hoiho after taking an internship to care for the bird.

"I'd never thought about penguins until I was sent down to Southland to work with them," he said.

"They're very shy. They hate people being around and it stresses them out. I can relate to them.

"They also nest in the forest. That's a bit odd."

NEW ZEALAND'S TOP FIVE BIRDS

* Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin)

* Kakapo (owl parrot)

* Kakaruia (black robin)

* Ttuturiwhatu (banded dotterel)

* Piwakawaka (fantail)

Australian Associated Press