This handout photograph taken on March 25, 2022 and received on October 17, 2022 from New Zealand's Department of Conservation shows a kakapo and its chick on New Zealand's Codfish Island. Image Credit: AFP

Wellington: The world’s fattest parrot can’t fly, and now it can’t run either.

Voting began on Monday in New Zealand’s always-controversial Bird of the Year contest, with angry twitchers spitting feathers at a decision to ban the twice-winning kakapo.

The beguiling owl parrot - which resembles a verdant feathered bowling ball - already won the contest in 2008 and 2020, and came runner up in 2021.

The kakapo was a favourite to win this year, scoring an endorsement from natural history icon David Attenborough, who described it as “loveable” and his favourite New Zealand bird.

But faced with a campaign of such soaring pedigree, organisers said they wanted to give less popular birds a chance.

“The decision to leave kakapo off this year’s candidate list wasn’t one we took lightly,” Ellen Rykers, a spokesperson for environmental group Forest and Bird, told AFP.

“We know how much people love the kakapo. Bird of the Year is about raising awareness for all of New Zealand’s native birds, many of which are in serious trouble,” she said.

“We want to keep the competition fresh and interesting, and share some of the spotlight,” Rykers added.

“It wouldn’t be Bird of the Year without a few ruffled feathers.”

Lord of the wings

New Zealand’s Bird of the Year contest has proven highly contentious over the years.

Past polls have been beset with irregularities - from a suspicious number of Russian votes, to neighbouring Australians openly attempting to rig the contest.

The reigning champion is the pekapeka-tou-roa - a bat.

This time around, Facebook pages have been set up to champion the takahe, described by fans as a “chonky swamp hen” and the kea - which also looks like a verdant feathered bowling ball.

But as voting got underway, Kakapo’s online fans insisted the ban won’t fly.

“Bird of the Year is so woke”, said Martyn Bradbury, suggesting the kakapo had been “cancelled” and the contest had become a “participation award” for ugly birds.

Twitter user Ben Uffindell said: “the integrity of our great national sport, Bird of the Year, has been permanently damaged.”

A kakapo expert from New Zealand’s Department of Conservation said it was important to allow other species to compete for the coveted Bird of the Year title.

“New Zealand has lots of fantastic birds, but unfortunately most of them are endangered,” community manager Louise Porter told AFP.

“There is a lot of publicity from winning bird of the year. Anything which gets the public engaging with conservation is a good thing.”

The kakapo, nocturnal and endangered, is unique to New Zealand and can weigh up to four kilograms, as much as a newborn human child.

Having previously teetered on the brink of extinction, the kakapo have recently had their best breeding season for 50 years, lifting their numbers from 197 to 252.

“People call kakapo ‘the world’s fattest parrot’, which is a bit mean - ‘the heaviest parrot’ is definitely kinder. They are gorgeous,” Porter said.

“One of this year’s chicks is 3.2 kilograms - basically a very round ball with feathers.”

This year’s Bird of the Year will be announced on October 31.