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Small but mighty . . . Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony team leader Georgie Catto (left) and Topflite marketing manager Caro Webster are urging Oamaru to vote for our littlest local icon in Bird of the Year 2021. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

An Oamaru-based company has taken the little penguin under its wing for Bird of the Year 2021.

Small animal and wild bird food producer Topflite was “campaign manager” for the little penguin or kororā in this year’s Forest and Bird-run competition, and locals were being urged to give the seabird a helping flipper, and vote.

Topflite marketing manager Caro Webster said the world’s littlest penguin had been a firm favourite for the company since its involvement in the Forest and Bird competition began.

“They’re the smallest and cutest penguins in the world, and they’re in a bit of trouble in this country. So it’s nice to help raise awareness, and get in behind our local little birds,” Mrs Webster said.

Last year the kororā was given to a different supporter, and Topflite ended up backing the tomtit instead.

she said. “But we’re back into it this year, and this year, we’ve chosen to really support the penguin colony more than we sort of have in previous years, purely because they’re missing out on their tourism support now.”

Prior to border closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a huge proportion of Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony visitors were from overseas. Although it had received some government support, opening hours had been reduced and income was down significantly.

“Locally, I think a lot of people think the penguin colony is quite commercial, and that it’s all about making money, but actually, research is their main function for being there,” Mrs Webster said.

“It’s not just a big money making tourism operation, they’re there to protect the penguins.”

Previous Bird of the Year competitions had been “a bit of fun” and “social media banter” for Topflite.

“That’s all good, because it all raises awareness, but we’re taking a slightly more serious stance this year, thinking well, it’s all good to send memes around and make it a bit funny, but actually it’s quite serious.

“They need a little bit of our help.”

Topflite was including the penguin colony in its Soar Initiative, which it launched last year.

Every year the company would choose one or two organisations to support, that helped protect New Zealand’s native flora and fauna.

“Last year we supported Kakapo Recovery and Orokonui Ecosanctuary. So we gave each of them a pool of money, that they use towards something,” she said.

This year, the penguin colony was one recipient. A second had not been decided on yet.

“With that money, we are going to adopt a penguin, and help them towards a project to purchase a weighing platform.”

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony team leader Georgie Catto said the penguins were in the middle of their breeding season now, and about 200 were coming in after dusk each night, while around 250 were in their nesting boxes either sitting on eggs, or caring for new chicks.

It was the perfect time of year to view the birds coming in, and locals with a proof of address could attend a viewing for half price, she said.

To vote for the kororā visit birdoftheyear.org.nz/little-penguin. Voting closes at the end of October.