The black-throated finch has been voted Australian bird of the year for 2019, beating the tawny frogmouth in a landslide.
The highly endangered finch, which is under threat from the expansion of the Adani Carmichael coalmine, was backed by a highly organised online campaign linking it to deforestation, the climate emergency and opposition to the mine.
It won with 11,153 votes (35% of the total), and 7,802 votes clear of second. Overall, including first and second round votes, 18,387 people voted for the black-throated finch.
The small passerine held a huge lead from early in the poll, winning the first round with 7,234 votes, more than 3,000 clear of second – and then extended that lead in the final round.
Less than 800 individuals currently exist of the southern black-throated finch subspecies, making it the most endangered bird in the final 10. However, the northern subspecies is more abundant and less threatened.
The tawny frogmouth briefly held hopes of becoming the first nocturnal bird to win the poll, but came a distant second with 3,351 votes.
The magpie, which won the inaugural Guardian/Birdlife Australia 2017 bird of the year, slumped to fourth, with 2,725 votes, and the ibis, which came second in 2017, dropped all the way to 10th, and only 1,147 votes.
The superb fairywren came third, with 2,875 votes, the magpie fourth (2,725) and the laughing kookaburra fifth (2,650).
The wedge-tailed eagle (2,402), the sulphur-crested cockatoo (2,341), the willie wagtail (1,970), the rainbow lorikeet (1,711) and the ibis followed.
Sean Dooley from Birdlife Australia paid tribute to the finch and said the victory was well-deserved.
“As someone who has gone out and seen that bird in nature, they are subtly stunning. No illustration I have seen has done justice to the beauty of the bird in real life. They are a literal breathtaker when you see them.”
The black-throated finch’s win struck a different kind of note.
“People could be cynical and say nobody had heard of this bird five years ago, and that is exactly the point,” he said. “That just shows how the awareness of Australian birds is growing.
“When we did the first poll in 2017 we essentially focused on birds we thought people would recognise. But the sad reality is that many of our birds are becoming iconic for all the wrong reasons, they are now emblematic of the extinction crisis.
“They have become characters of how we can express our grief in what we are losing in nature.”
Earlier, the poll was rocked by scandal after the discovery of a sophisticated voter fraud operation in favour of the sulphur-crested cockatoo.
Thousands of votes were added in minutes for the cockatoo – all automated and from the same origin – with other votes added to the finch and the rainbow lorikeet in an attempt to disguise the ruse.
All fraudulent votes were promptly identified and removed.
Under a new two-round structure, this year’s poll had a first round of voting between 50 birds, with the top 10 progressing to a final round to crown the winner.
With three hours left in the first round, a huge surge for both the eagle and galah meant the wagtail, in ninth, was suddenly at risk of dropping out of the top 10 altogether.
In the end, the galah missed out by only four votes.
Dooley said the biannual competition was “a fantastic celebration”, a joyous event and a way to raise awareness of bird conservation.
“I think bird lovers are the true quiet Australians,” he told Guardian Australia. “Generally they haven’t made a fuss about it, partly in the past it’s been seen as a bit daggy.
“But I remember I travelled the country in 2002, I would rock up with my binoculars, in the most archetypal country towns, and there would always be someone at the pub or cafe who loved their birds.
“Having something like this shows people that they are not the only birder in the village. Its just fantastic and a lot of fun. It’s great to be sitting on the train and hearing people have heated arguments about what their favourite bird is.”
This is the second time the bird of the year poll has been run by Guardian Australia and Birdlife Australia.
In 2017, the magpie won with 19,926 votes, and the ibis came second with 19,083.