John Oliver backs ‘strange, puking’ pūtekeke as he takes New Zealand’s Bird of the Century survey around the world

British comedian and US talk show host John Oliver has blasted New Zealand’s Bird of the Century campaign with a global campaign to support the endangered pūteketeke.

The annual two-week contest usually attracts about 60,000 votes. So far, that number of votes has come in overnight since Oliver announced himself as the official pūteketeke campaign manager during last week’s Sunday episode of Tonight in the US.

“This is what democracy is all about – America meddling in foreign elections,” he said.

In the show, Oliver unveiled billboards in several locations around the world including a mobile lorry billboard in the UK challenging Britons to “Help us crown a real king” as in pūteketeke and not King Charles.

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“They are strange-winged birds with colourful beaks. What’s not to like here?” said Oliver the pūteketeke eating hundreds of its feathers to settle its stomach before cleaning itself again.

Pūteketeke on Lake Te Anau, South Island, New Zealand.

Oliver recommended the method of raising the bird equally where the male and female take turns incubating their eggs. A rare pūteketeke mating ritual was related to Oliver in which both birds “grab a bunch of wet grass and bump each other’s chests before standing around unsure of what to do next,” he said.

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Oliver admitted that the show’s campaign was “incredibly aggressive”, buying billboards in New Zealand, Japan, France, the UK, India and the US state of Wisconsin. A plane with a pūteketeke campaign banner flew over the beaches of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

“I just don’t want pūteketeke to win. I want it to win the biggest competition in the history of this competition,” he said, as he walked across the studio to a large animation of this bird that was twice as tall as him.

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The tournament has seen controversy in the past, including the crowning of a bat and not a bird in 2021.

Each year, regular local volunteers run campaigns for 75 bird nominees for the competition, run by the conservation organization Forest & Bird. Oliver is up against others such as an Auckland primary school, which is campaigning for a vocally gifted tūī, and University of Otago research students representing the rockhopper penguin.

“No, we don’t have too much salt about the US heavyweight. Last week Tonight we are entering the campaign. We are very salty (and full of krill) because we are sea birds,” said the message on the official Instagram account of the penguin campaign following Oliver’s program.

The tiny, yellow pīwauwau rock wren won the 2022 Bird of the Year contest with about 2,800 votes. As of last Friday, when Forest & Bird last counted the results, the kea, the green parrot, was in the lead, according to Bird of the Century spokeswoman Ellen Rykers.