The cassowary is long gone. So too the sulphur-crested cockatoo, the swift parrot, the shy albatross and the spotted pardalote.
No, there hasn’t been (another) mass extinction (yet) but the new voting format in the 2021 Guardian/Birdlife Australia bird of the year poll means the competition has morphed into a brutal kind of ornithological Game of Thrones.
What started as a field of 50 of Australia’s favourite bird species 11 days ago has been ruthlessly whittled down, with five birds eliminated at the end of each day’s voting.
Thursday marks the finale of this year’s competition, with voting for the final 10 going dark until the polls close at 11.59pm AEDT before the winner is announced on Friday.
Even the support of high-profile politicians, writers and yes, Guardian staff members, was not enough to save some birds. The former prime minister Kevin Rudd couldn’t muster enough votes to keep the crimson rosella in contention, despite paying tribute to its “beautiful plumage” and likening it to another institution of Australiana: tomato sauce.
Similarly, writer and television presenter Benjamin Law could not convince voters to keep the southern cassowary in the poll after talking up the size of its “insane talon” which can and, given our encroachment on its natural habitat, he suggested, perhaps should, disembowel humans.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young couldn’t help the glossy-black cockatoo stay in the race, another blow for a bird that lost much of its habitat on Kangaroo Island to the black summer bushfires. Another South Australian, independent senator Rex Patrick, seemed to give his support to the pelican, despite the bird maybe not returning the sentiment.
Of those that remained in contention as voting heated up on Wednesday, a few maintained solid institutional support. The shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, said she was backing the powerful owl because of a group nesting in Sydney’s Centennial Park.
“I think it’s so marvellous that I can see their little snowy cheeks in these beautiful tall trees in the middle of our largest city,” she said.
“A rare bird but a beautiful one.”
Federal Liberal senator Andrew Bragg threw his support behind the Australian brush turkey, better known as the bush turkey, or, as one Guardian writer called it in 2017, the avian archetype of the Aussie battler for its ability to persist and thrive even in less than hospitable environs. On Wednesday evening the turkey was struggling to make it to the final 10, but Bragg was undeterred.
“The bush turkey is very ugly, but he’s a fighter. That resonates with me, and that’s why he’s getting my vote,” Bragg told the Guardian.
“I also like the underdog. As a Geelong supporter, it’s in my DNA.”
Among Guardian staff members, the vote has been widely split. Indigenous affairs editor Lorena Allam wrote beautifully about her attachment to the magpie family next door, federal politics reporter Amy Remeikis lent her support to the superb fairy wren, a “lovely, promiscuous little queen of the bird world”, while reporter and live blogger Matilda Boseley … well, you should probably just watch what Matilda did.
There have been some consistent favourites throughout the poll, with the gang-gang cockatoo, superb fairywren and tawny frogmouth separated by just a few hundred votes over the first full week of voting.
But heading into the final day of voting, it seemed it would be the supporters of the last five birds to be eliminated overnight whose new choices on Thursday might decide which bird would join the magpie (winner in 2017) and the black-throated finch (winner in 2019) as Australia’s top biennial bird.
Vote early, but don’t vote often, in case you want the Australian Electoral Commission on your case.