are huia birds still alive

The huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) has long had iconic significance in New Zealand because of its beauty. The white-tipped tail feathers were a revered taonga (treasure) for M?ori at the time of European arrival. Because the female huia had a downward pointing beak that was much larger than that of the male, pairs of huia were often killed and preserved in glass cases, as in this example.

Huia were easy to catch. There was a rapid decline in their numbers in the late 19th century, probably because of a combination of bush clearance, predation and hunting. Legislation to stop the birds being hunted was passed in 1892, but it was too late to avoid their extinction, which happened in the early 20th century.

Permission of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa must be obtained before any re-use of this .

The likely cause of the huia extinction was predation by introduced mammals and, to a lesser extent, hunting by humans. In order to make way for farming, large tracts of huia’s native forest were cleared for logging or burning in the 1800s, but this would have only slightly reduced the species’ range rather than significantly accelerating its extinction. Huia tail feathers were traditionally valued by Maori and worn as a status symbol. Following the Duke of York’s 1901 visit to New Zealand, when he was pictured wearing one, tail feathers became popular in Britain. Mounted specimens and tail feathers were purchased by foreign bird collectors and museums. Between 1877 and 1889, Austrian naturalist Andreas Reischek collected 212 pairs. Naturalist Walter Buller of New Zealand noted that in a single month in 1863, 11 Maori hunters removed 646 huia skins from the forest between Manawatu Gorge and Akitio. Gilbert Mair wrote that he had “a splendid stew of pigeons, Kaka, and Huia.” Thousands of huia were exported overseas. Protection measures enacted in the 1890s were poorly enforced. In the 1880s, two male birds housed at the London Zoo perished in captivity. There was never a chance to move huia to the reserves on Kapiti and Little Barrier Islands. After being apprehended in 1893 and taken to Little Barrier, Walter Buller obtained the pair and reportedly sent them to Baron Walter Rothschild in England.

The male huia dug into rotting wood with their bills acting as a “pick-axe,” revealing and removing huhu larvae and other insects. In order to extract larvae from more solid wood, females used their longer, more decurved bill to probe deeper. Buller noted that food was transferred from male to female, but never the other way around. He also reported seeing two that appeared to be working together to hunt weta. Riley cited Caldwell as saying: “He carries a lovely spider in his arms and tenderly presents it to his significant other, who appears to value his careful attention to detail.” And so they keep close together . The female, with her narrow bill, frequently catches a fat, fine insect, but she doesn’t give it to her partner.” Wright was cited by Oliver: “I have observed them in pairs searching for wetas.” The male would rip a green sapling’s outer layer off. The female then attempted to use her long, thin bill to get the weta. If unsuccessful, she would retreat and the man would attempt to widen the hole. The birds would usually succeed unless the tree was a maire, in which case they would take off with the weta.” Pairs may have taken more food from a territory because different bills allowed them to take advantage of a variety of food sources in various microhabitats.

New Zealand wattlebirds are crow- or starling-like songbirds. According to genetic comparisons, they may have had a common ancestor with New Guinea’s longbills, berrypeckers, and satinbirds. Collectively, they comprise the Callaeidae family of endemic birds found in New Zealand, which includes the North and South Island species of kokako and saddleback (tieke), as well as the now-extinct huia. All have (or formerly had) rounded wings, a restricted range of flight abilities, and a system of bounds, hops, and jumps for getting around forests.

Prehistoric huia bone remains show that it was rare in the South Island but widespread in the North Island. Huia were common but became rare after European settlers arrived in the eastern North Island, from Huiarau southward. The majority of records came from the northern Wairarapa, the Tararua and Rimutaka ranges, the Ruahine, and the hills surrounding Wellington.

Buller kept a pair of captives that hopped from branch to branch, fanning their tails and petting bills as they made low twittering interactions. This was thought to be a courtship display. Along with kokako and saddleback, male huia also fed females during courtship, incubation, and brooding. Huia bred as monogamous pairs during September-February. The large, saucer-shaped nest had thick walls made of woven grass, leaves, and stems, and it had a cup-shaped center. In September and October, two to four stone-grey eggs with purplish-brown markings were laid. Incubation was mainly by the female. One brood of 2-3 nestlings was reared, mainly in November. Young spent at least three months with the family group, receiving food from both adults. Unverified reports also exist of a nest with four eggs “laid in the rotten dust” that was found “in a rotten maitai tree, about fifteen feet from the ground.”

Because of its beauty, the huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) has long held a legendary status in New Zealand. When European settlers arrived, M?ori considered the white-tipped tail feathers to be a precious treasure, or taonga. Due to the female huia’s significantly larger beak pointing downward than the male’s, pairs of huia were frequently killed and preserved in glass cases, this one included.

Before reusing this, permission from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is required.

Huia were easy to catch. Their population dropped off quickly in the late 19th century, most likely as a result of hunting, predation, and clearing of the surrounding bush. Although laws prohibiting the hunting of the birds were passed in 1892, it was too late to save them from extinction, which occurred in the early 20th century.