Callaeidae (New Zealand Wattlebirds)
Huia Heteralocha acutirostris (Gould, 1837)
- RMNH 110.080: male. New Zealand.
- RMNH 110.081: female. New Zealand.
- RMNH 110.101: male. Origin unknown.
- RMNH 110.102: female. Origin unknown.
- RMNH 110.107: female. New Zealand. Exchanged with: Museum Godeffroy.
- RMNH 110.108: male. Rimutaka Hills, Wellington Province, North Island, New Zealand, December 1898. Obtained through: Travers, Wellington, 1901.
- RMNH 110.109: female. Rimutaka Hills, Wellington Province, North Island, New Zealand, December 1898. Obtained through: Travers, Wellington, 1901.
Short and long bills
The Huia was extensively hunted even before the first Europeans set foot in New Zealand. The bird was highly prized by the Maori for its tail feathers. Some assume Huias have never been common, restricted as they were to the southern part of North Island. It is therefore not surprising that the species declined rapidly when hunting intensified with the arrival of the Europeans. European collectors valued the bird for the peculiar difference between the sexes. The bill of the female is about twice as long as that of the male. Whereas the male used his short bill much in the manner of woodpeckers, the female delicately removed grubs and insects from the bark of trees before pinning them down with her claws and tearing them apart.
For 19th-century collectors of the oddities of nature, Huias were very attractive and many specimens were caught for museums and private collections. New Zealand museums alone possess 119 skins. Apart from hunting, other causes of their decline may have been competition for food with introduced birds. These introductions may also have infected the Huias with diseases to which they had no natural immunity. Habitat loss, which proved fatal for so many other New Zealand birds, will also have had its disastrous effect on this species.
By 1888 the Huia was still recorded as being quite common. The last reliable sighting dates from 1907. It probably survived for several more years as sightings of black birds with orange facial wattles were reported until the 1920s.
Naturalis possesses seven Huia skins. Two of these, beautifully mounted in a case, are typical for the way 19th-century collectors displayed these remarkable birds. Three skins are donations by other museums: two from the Wellington Museum in New Zealand and one from the Godeffroy Museum in Hamburg. The provenance of two more specimens is unknown; they were bought at an auction in England at about 1980 and sold to the museum in 1981.