The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has thrown a proverbial cat among the kererū in the Bird of the Year awards, as a sneak peak at early results released by Forest and Bird show front-running candidates kākāpo and hoiho trying to elbow out the competition.
MfE is calling for wetland supporters to ignore early posturing and get in behind the matuku, our native bittern.
Te Manu Rongonui o Te Tau/Bird of The Year 2019 voting closes this Sunday at 5pm, and MfE is encouraging late voters to make their vote count by taking the matuku under their wings.
“Like most New Zealanders, the matuku is a no-fuss, understated kind of a bird. This unsung hero of our wetlands deserves their moment in the sun. Let’s give the matuku something to crow about,” says MfE Deputy Secretary Anne Haira.
“Like most of us, the matuku just wants to fit in. Their feathers are coloured and patterned in a way that allows them to blend in with the reeds in the wetlands when they want to be hidden or are scared. They straighten up, stick their heads up in the air and their stripes camouflage them.”
“Unfortunately, the matuku is in serious trouble, with only an estimated 900 birds remaining in New Zealand.”
The matuku is facing an immediate high risk of extinction. The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of its habitat, predators and poor water quality.
Matuku are important to Māori. They were important for food, their feathers were used for ceremonial decoration and they are part of legends and waiata.
In New Zealand, 90% of wetlands have been lost and the remaining 10% is under threat.
The joint Ministry and Stats NZ report, Environment Aotearoa 2019, tells us that wetland areas continue to shrink, with at least 1,247 hectares lost between 2001 and 2016.
This means the matuku, and other wetlands residents, are struggling to survive.
“The good news is that is the government’s currently looking at new regulations to protect the rest of our natural wetlands, as part of the proposed freshwater policy package.”
“In this year’s awards, help the matuku rule the roost and soar above the rest. A vote for the matuku is a vote for our wetlands.”
Ms Haira says regardless of which bird wins the contest, Forest and Bird is to be congratulated for giving New Zealanders the chance to show how much we care for our native species and our environment.
Voting for this year's competition opened on Monday 28 October and closes 5pm on Sunday 10 November. This year voters can select up to five birds, ranking them from one to five.