There was something very special about the huia – the male and female birds had very different beaks. The male's beak was short and straight to peck holes in wood to eat grubs. The female’s beak was long and curved to reach into holes to grab insects.
Fossils show that the huia could once be found throughout the North Island of New Zealand. When European settlers arrived in New Zealand the huia was found only in the lower half of the North Island, from East Cape to Wellington. This tells us that the number of huia was in decline before Europeans arrived in New Zealand.
First came Maori
The huia’s tail feathers were fashioned into head pieces, and their beaks were later used as brooches, something that no doubt led to their extinction. Rich and famous people around the world were willing to pay lots of money to have their own huia feather, so hunters began killing the huia again. The huia did not stand a chance of survival against this final hunt, as well as having to avoid introduced predators and habitat loss.
Huia were considered as taonga or treasures by Maori. Only important people, like chiefs, were allowed to wear Huia feathers in their hair or wear huia beaks as ornaments. To collect the tail feathers Maori would have to kill the Huia.
Domestic dogs and the Polynesian rat were both introduced to New Zealand by Maori. Huia chicks would have been killed by the Polynesian rat (kiore) and adult huia may have been killed by dogs. Maori also cleared areas of forest that would have previously been the home to many birds, including the huia.
Here comes the boat from Europe…………
European settlers introduced more predators to New Zealand – more rats as well as stoats, dogs and cats. More forest was cleared for farming and towns, destroying the homes of New Zealand’s birds.
But a big threat to the huia was hunting. Europeans wanted stuffed huia for their bird collections in museums and homes. Hundreds of huia were killed and shipped overseas to become exhibit pieces in museums and mansions. European women also liked to wear huia beaks as brooches.
Attempt to save the huia
In the 1880’s Maori chiefs in the Manawatu and Wairarapa regions put a tapu on the huia, which meant that it was illegal under Maori law to kill huia. The Maori chiefs asked the Europeans to stop killing the huia as well. There were even some attempts made to transfer huia to island sanctuaries. Unfortunately these attempts failed.
In 1892 a law was passed to make it illegal to kill a huia but the protection did not last for long. In 1902 the Duke of York (who became King George V) visited Rotorua and a local Maori man gave him a huia tail feather, which the Duke of York put on his hat.
Rich and famous people around the world were willing to pay lots of money to have their own huia feather, so hunters began killing the huia again. The huia did not stand a chance of survival against this final hunt, as well as having to avoid introduced predators and habitat loss.
The huia became extinct. The last reliable sighting of a live huia was in 1907. However, there have been stories about people seeing huia up to the year 1920.