Episode 6 - The Call of the Huia
HERO ARTEFACT: Huia birds
LOCATION: Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History. Palmerston North
The story of the Huia is a cautionary tale. The last confirmed sighting of a huia was in 1907. Its extinction is blamed on overhunting for specimens and for fashion – the feathers were much prized. Deforestation also played a large part in the bird’s demise. European settlers cleared ancient forests for pastures and huia couldn’t survive in the regenerating secondary forests.
Huia were unique because male and female had very different bill shapes. The female's beak was long, thin and arched downward, while the male's was short and stout. A pair of birds would mate for life – feeding each other with their complementary beaks. The huia was a bird of deep metallic, bluish-black plumage with a greenish iridescence on the upper surface, especially about the head. The tail feathers were unique – with a broad white band across the tips.
The huia is one of New Zealand's best-known extinct birds because of its bill shape, its beauty and also because Māori regarded Huia as tapu. Wearing of Huia skin or feathers was reserved for people of high status.
Additional artefacts in this episode and where to visit them:
Te Awa Tupua / Whanganui River
Te Kura Whare / The Living House – Taneatua, Te Urewera
Huia tail feathers – Te Papa Tongarewa
Longbush property – Near Gisborne