Bird of the Century an opportunity to engage tamariki with nature

Issue: Volume 102, Number 14

Posted: 27 October 2023
Reference #: 1HAcnS

Every year, bird enthusiasts from across Aotearoa – and the world – cast votes for their favourite feathered friends in Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year.
The contest launched in 2005, with the tūī swooping the inaugural title.

Young New Zealanders Bird Chart 1923 Protect your native birds, N.Z. Native Bird Protection Society. Credit: Te Papa (CA000450).

Young New Zealanders Bird Chart 1923 Protect your native birds, N.Z. Native Bird Protection Society. Credit: Te Papa (CA000450).

For 18 years the treasured Bird of the Year competition – peppered with drama, including voting scandals and a bat taking the crown – has grown to become a national institution and beloved celebration of Aotearoa New Zealand’s native manu.

This year, the stakes are even higher. To celebrate Forest & Bird’s 100th birthday, voters are electing their Bird of the Century.

“This year, we’re searching for the bird that has captured New Zealanders’ hearts over the last 100 years,” chief executive Nicola Toki says.

Seventy-five delightfully diverse bird species are candidates in this year’s competition, including five extinct species. The huia, tutukiwi (South Island snipe), piopio, mātuhituhi (bush wren) and the whēkau (laughing owl) have been added to the running for the first time ever, to highlight ongoing threats to native wildlife. 

“New Zealand’s extinction record is devastating. The five extinct birds in this year’s competition are a heartbreaking reminder of the incredible biodiversity we’ve lost,” says Nicola.  

“Eighty-two percent of our living native bird species are threatened or at risk of extinction. We cannot let any more end up like the laughing owl or the huia – gone from our ngahere, our forests, forever.

“We hope New Zealanders and people around the world will get involved in the fun of Bird of the Century 2023, discover the amazing stories behind our living and dearly departed feathered friends, and ultimately be inspired to speak up for them.”

Opportunities for educators

Forest & Bird is encouraging educators across the motu to get involved in Bird of the Century. The competition presents a myriad of opportunities for bird-themed activities – from mock debates and creative projects to class presentations – while honing critical thinking skills and an appreciation for biodiversity in Aotearoa. 

On the Kiwi Conservation Club website, educators can access a new resource to incorporate Bird of the Century into their teaching plans, which contains a range of suggested bird-related activities to encourage connection to the country’s manu.

Bird of the Century is part of a full year of centennial celebrations for Forest & Bird, aimed at encouraging everyone to think about how they can help to look after nature in their backyards and leave an enduring legacy for future New Zealanders. 

This includes supporting educators to facilitate the involvement of children, youth and adults in conservation. 

Forest & Bird historian Michael Pringle says education, particularly among young people, has been a key goal of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society since it was launched by Captain Ernest “Val” Sanderson at a public meeting in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, 100 years ago on 28 March 1923. 

“From the society’s very outset, working with children to raise their awareness of native birds and why we must preserve at least some forest as homes for the birds, and for economic and soil reasons, was considered vital,” says Michael. 

Val Sanderson poured huge amounts of time and resources into raising awareness of the pressures facing our environment and cultivating children’s natural curiosity for birdlife.

To help spread the word about vanishing nature, Sanderson campaigned for a bird day in schools and published bird posters and books for children. 

“It was natural to want to convince young hearts and minds if lasting change was to occur,” says Michael. 

“The early society sent regular circulars to head teachers and principals enclosing copies of the society’s bulletins. In one, Sanderson noted that ‘we trust and believe that you will instil into the minds of the rising generations the importance of forests and birds to the general welfare… We invite any of your children to join our society, or band themselves together into a nature or bird club.’ Some schools joined the society as a group, right into the 1950s.”

One of the society’s first child-focussed publications was the poster Young New Zealanders Protect Your Native Birds! The poster was sent to 2,000 schools across Aotearoa when it was published in 1923 and is the first instance of the society’s efforts to show children what native birds looked like – but certainly not the last. 

Legacy of conservation

The educational legacy of Val Sanderson and fellow founding members of Forest & Bird expands year on year. 

The launch of Forest & Bird’s Kiwi Conservation Club (KCC) in 1988 – the first national children’s conservation organisation in Aotearoa – marked a shift toward championing children-led conservation efforts in an adult-driven field.

“Our tamariki are the future, it is so important they feel welcomed and supported in the conservation space. Kiwi Conservation Club upholds the Forest & Bird founders’ ambition to engage children and nurture their curiosity for Aotearoa’s unique wildlife through fun, educational activities. It is incredibly rewarding to see the enthusiastic response from our members, knowing their voices are being heard,” says Rebecca Hatch, Kiwi Conservation Club manager. Bird of the Century

“The popularity of KCC shows us that with guidance, support and opportunities from educators, tamariki can be the change they wish to see.”

Today, Aotearoa New Zealand’s native birds are under threat from climate change, habitat loss, and predation by introduced pests like rats, possums and cats. 

By fostering students’ love for te taiao, just as Val Sanderson did, educators can inspire more people to get involved in conservation, reduce pressures placed on our wildlife, and protect the environment for future generations. 

Further information

All 75 contenders can be viewed on the Bird of the Century website: Bird of the year(external link).

Voting for Bird of the Century will open at 9am on Monday 30 October 2023 and run for two weeks, closing at 5pm on Sunday 12 November. The winner will be announced the following morning. Everyone can vote for up to five birds.

A resource for educators is available at: Bird of the year - Kiwi Conservation Club(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 8:37 am, 27 October 2023

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