Somehow a Bat Was Just Named ‘Bird of the Year 2021’

by Clayton Edwards

Most of us heard encouraging words from parents and teachers when we were young. “Follow your dreams,” they would say. Additionally, “You can be anything you want to be,” was a common phrase. This little bat from New Zealand is bringing some truth to those words. Despite not being a bird at all, the pekapeka-tou-roa, or long-tailed bat, has been crowned the country’s Bird of the Year.

New Zealand-based environmental group Forest and Bird runs the competition for the nation’s best bird every year. Avian enthusiasts from across the nation and around the globe flock to online voting to make their voices heard. This year’s winner is ruffling some feathers. As a result, some bird lovers are crowing about the results, saying that the long-tailed bat stole the crown from actual birds, according to The Independent.

This year’s competition featured around 200 bird species native to New Zealand and one bat. In the end, around 58,000 people came to cast their votes. Approximately 7,000 of those votes went to pekapeka-tou-roa, giving it a massive and multi-faceted victory. Of course, there’s the obvious: a bat won Bird of the Year without being a bird at all. However, it’s deeper than that. The bats were getting a bit of bad publicity since last year. Many pointed to bats as the origin of the COVID pandemic. Pekapeka-tou-roa is one of only two bat species in New Zealand. As a result, the tiny flying mammal was guilty by association.

Before we talk about how a bat got into the Bird of the Year competition, take a look at this video. It gives a little more information on the species and shows just how cute the tiny nocturnal critters are.

How Pekapeka-Tou-Roa Got Into the Bird of the Year Contest

So, why was a bat in the running for Bird of the Year? There are several reasons.

The long-tailed bat holds a special place in the hearts of many New Zealanders. For one, it’s their only indigenous land mammal. Additionally, they’re harmless and cute as a button. Full-grown members of the species are only about the size of a thumb. Their babies are about the size of a bumblebee.

However, the fact that the species is nearing extinction is the biggest reason for their addition to the contest. Lissy Fehnkey-Heather of Forest and Bird spoke to The Independent about the decision. “Bats are New Zealand’s only native land mammals and they are classed as nationally critical. They face a lot of the same threats that our native birds do, so this year, we thought we’ll try and get more people aware of that,” she said.

Laura Keown, a spokesperson for Forest and Bird also spoke up about the controversial Bird of the Year contestant. “A vote for bats is also a vote for predator control, habitat restoration, and climate action to protect our bats and their feathered neighbors.”