Auckland Has an ‘Angry Birds’ Problem

The invasive red-vented bulbul is hostile to native birds

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Anton Croos

Red-vented Bulbul

New Zealand authorities warned residents of an impending threat late last week: “Angry Birds still at large in Auckland.” While that headline might conjure images of the catapulting animated avian species immortalized in Rovio Entertainment’s Angry Birds game, the New Zealand city is on the lookout for a real-life equivalent.

Deemed “one of the world’s most invasive bird species,” the red-vented bulbul is also classified as an “Unwanted Organism” by New Zealand authorities, which have called on the public to help track the population. Jaap Knegtmans, the Response Manager for the Ministry for Primary Industries, notes that residents should not be caught off-guard by the birds. While they “may appear cute, they’re anything but,” he was quoted as saying in a press release.

The birds are reportedly hostile to other birds and consume native agriculture and horticulture, which could have a critical impact on Auckland’s ecosystem. “We’d like to hear from members of the public who believe they’ve seen these birds and the sooner we can hear about a potential sighting, the better,” says Knegtmans.

Native to parts of Asia including Pakistan and southwest China, the birds appeared in New Zealand in 1950 and again as recently as 2006.  They were eradicated in both instances. The Ministry suspects that the newest population may have arrived in Auckland on a ship coming from elsewhere in the Pacific.

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Knegtmans told Bloomberg that his allusion to the ubiquitous video game—which was so lucrative that it now has book and TV spin offs as well as a movie in the works—was intentional. He said, “It was to get a bit more media interest in the story and bring it into today’s conversation, which is what it has done.”

The fictional and real birds have somewhat similar appearances in addition to their aggressive demeanor. The red-vented bulbul is approximately eight inches long and is primarily dark with a white abdomen. Its identifying trait, however, is a red feather patch underneath the tail.

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