Fun Huia Facts For Kids

Joan Agie
Aug 11, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Monisha Kochhar
Fact-checked by Oluwapelumi Iwayemi
To learn about the iconic New Zealand wattlebird, check out these Huia facts.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 11.8 Min

New Zealand is known to be blessed with diverse avifauna. Over time, due to habitat destruction, rampant hunting, and other factors, some birds had to fight a tough battle for survival. One such story is that of Huia.

An iconic songbird endemic to the North Island of New Zealand, one of the country's five native wattlebird species, the Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris), became extinct early 20th century. Many notable things about the extinct Huia made it so special.

The most prominent feature of the Huia was the striking sexual dimorphism of the bills among the males and females. The shape and size of the male and female Huia bills were very different, making them a prized game for poachers.

The Huia bird was regarded as sacred among the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand. Maori of high status wore Huia skin or feathers.

In this article, we share some exciting facts about this majestic wattlebird, Heteralocha acutirostris, from New Zealand and share some insights into how the popularity of the bird gradually led to its extinction. If you like to read about birds, do not miss reading our articles on the greater flamingo and American kestrel.

It's time to embark on an exciting journey all the way to the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand, a land that’s known for its stunning array of birds. But did you know that not all of these feathery friends had a fairy-tale ending? Meet the Huia, a songbird with a story that's sure to ruffle your feathers!

Calling the North Island of New Zealand home, Huia birds were truly one of a kind, strutting around as one of the country's five native wattlebird species. However, this enchanting songbird sang its last note in the early 20th century.

It's not all doom and gloom though, because the Huia birds have left a lasting legacy and some incredibly cool facts that you're about to explore!

The Huia held a special place in the hearts of the Maori, the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. For them, the Huia wasn't just a bird, it was a symbol of status and honor.

Only those of high rank were privileged to wear the Huia bird's feathers or skin. It's not hard to see why the Huia birds were revered, but this fame ultimately played a part in their sad farewell.

Join this fun fact-finding session and dive into the captivating tale of the Huia bird, exploring the rich tapestry of its life, its standout qualities, and the unfortunate series of events leading to its extinction. Get ready for a flight of fascination and discovery!

Huia Interesting Facts

What is a Huia?

Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris) is the name given to an extinct group of songbirds. They were the largest among the five wattlebird species native to New Zealand.

What class of animals does a Huia bird belong to?

Huia birds belonged to the Aves class of animals; the only species in the genus Heteralocha, family Callaeidae, and order Passeriformes.

How many Huia birds are there in the world?

Huia birds are extinct, so there are none left globally. The last confirmed sighting of the extinct Huia birds dates back to 1907.

The genetic study of the bones of Huia birds from the pre-human settlement reveals that they were commonly found in the North Island, with an estimated population range of 34,000- 89,000 birds.

Where did Huia birds live?

The fossil remains of Huia birds reveal that they mainly inhabited the mountainous regions of North Island and were absent in South Island. They preferred the montane forest and the lowland places. It is said that they moved places depending on the season and lived in lowland forests during winter and preferred montane forests during summer.

What was the preferred habitat for Huia birds?

Huia birds lived in both of the two primary forest types prevalent in the North Island of New Zealand. Their preferred habitat seemed to be the broadleaf-podocarp forests characterized by a dense understorey.

Some Huia bird populations also lived in the southern beech forest. The Huia birds lived in the vegetation native to the region and were never seen around the burnt forests or farmlands, or pastures.

The majority of Huia bird nests were found near the summit of mountains. The bird made its nest with dried grass, twigs, leaves, and sticks, in the shape of a saucer.

The nests were characterized by a small hollow in the middle with soft material like grass and twigs for cushion and insulation of the eggs. The nest's location varied, some were in the hollow of dead trees, on low branches, near the ground with a shield of hanging vines.

The Huia birds lived in pairs and usually would move around or forage for food alone, in pairs, or in a small flock of up to five birds, living like family members.

How long does a Huia live?

Since the Huia became extinct from New Zealand in the early 20th century, there is a lot about the bird that could not be studied. There is therefore no concrete information about the average lifespan of Huia birds.

How did Huia birds reproduce?

There is not much information about reproduction in Huia birds. The breeding season is said to have been around September to February, with Huia bird eggs laid between September and October. The mated pair nested solitarily and were thought to be territorial.

Huia birds had one brood per season, and the average clutch size was two to three. Huia bird eggs were recognized by their grayish color with purple and brown spots and measured 1.8 by 1.5 in (45 by 30 mm).

The incubation duration is not known, but it is said to be primarily done by the female.

After hatching, the adults would remove the eggshell from the nest. The chicks remained in the family and were fed and taken care of by both parents for three months, after which they appeared big enough to become independent.

Huia birds are said to have been monogamous, and they lived with mated pairs for life.

A study of a tame live pair by the New Zealand naturalist Walter Buller reveals that even in captivity, the pair exhibited a low affectionate twittering and would caress each other with their bills. When the male of this tame pair died, the female was distressed and pined for him and succumbed to death ten days later.

A Maori man from the 19th century also stated that a pair of Huia birds lived most affectionately.

What is the conservation status of Huia birds?

The Huia is listed as an extinct bird species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) conservation list. The species became endangered by the 19th century, and efforts to save them could not be adequately enforced.

The last confirmed sighting of the birds dates back to 28 December 1907 by W.W. Smith. Smith saw three birds in the Tararua ranges. Later in 1922 and sometime in 1960, some credible sightings were reported, but nothing concrete came out.

Huia Fun Facts

What did Huia birds look like?

The Huia was characterized by a glossy black plumage with a greenish/bluish metallic tinge. The edges of the Huia tail feathers had 0.78-1.18 in (2-3 cm) white tips.

The bird's bill was pale ivory and a bright orange wattle of about 0.94 in by 0.62 in (24 mm by 16 mm) hung at the base on each side of the bill. The size of the female curved bill was around 3.34-4.09 in (85-104 mm), while the male's bill measured about 2.12-2.36 in (54-60 mm).

The Huia birds had strong legs that were bluish-gray. A young Huia bird sported brownish-black plumage with off white band on tail feathers.

The Huia birds, with their glossy plumage, white bands on the feather tails, and deep orange wattles, looked majestic. They were a famous bird specie among the native population of New Zealand and were very much sought after.

Two black Huias.

How did Huia birds communicate?

Huia birds communicated in melodious, flute-like whistles. They would point their bills at about 30 to 45 degrees while making their calls. The male and the female had different calls and would alternate the calls continuously while communicating and answering each other.

Their calls could be heard within a 400 m radius. The bird got its name "Huia" from its characteristically loud whistle which the Maori described as a smooth, unslurred whistle that sounded like 'uia, uia', meaning "Where are you?"

How big were Huia birds?

The Huia bird was about the same size as the magpie. The males were about 18 in (45 cm) long, while the females were a little larger and measured 19 in (48 cm).

How fast could a Huia bird fly?

Huia birds had powerful legs but had limited ability to take on long, sustained flights. They had rounded wings and used their legs to hop and jump to move around. Very rarely did these birds fly above tree height.

How much did a Huia bird weigh?

A Huia bird weighed around 10.58-14.1 oz (300-400 g) on average.

What are the male and female names of the Huia species?

There is no specific name to refer to the males and females of the Huia species. They are generally referred to as male and female Huia birds, respectively.

What would you call a baby Huia?

There is no particular name to call a baby Huia. They are often referred to as baby Huia or chick.

What did Huia birds eat?

The different bill shapes of the Huia pair allowed the birds to feast on a wide variety of food sources. They primarily ate wood-dwelling insects like mantis, weta, butterflies, and their larvae picked from decaying wood. They would also prey on spiders and grubs that were found near the bark of trees, moss, and ferns.

The Huias were omnivorous; their diet also included native forest fruits like the kahikatea, hinau, and pigeonwood, among others. The shape of the male Huia bird's bill enabled them to pick at the decaying wood and dig in to get insects and their larvae.

The female Huia with their decurved bills had the advantage of probing into deeper areas in the wood to find their food.

Were Huia birds dangerous?

There is no record of Huia birds being dangerous. They are described as quiet and naive birds with no fear of humans and were very easy to prey on. The Maori hunters imitated their calls to get to them. They would use a carved pole with a noose on one end to capture the female Huia first.

The hunters were also known to take advantage of the affectionate bond the pair shared. The female would give out a distress call to the male Huia bird after being snared, and when the male Huia reached out to the female, the hunters would capture it similarly.

Did Huia birds make good pets?

The Maori kept the Huia bird as a pet. Interestingly, Huia, like another of the New Zealand birds, the tui, could be taught to utter a few words.

Did you know...

The fashion trend of wearing the Huia tail feather caught on in Britain when the Duke of York was seen wearing it during a visit to New Zealand in 1901.

A Maori guide to the Duke gifted it as a symbol of friendship and respect; the guide took it out of her hair and placed it in the Duke's hatband.

Due to its unique bill dimorphism, bird collectors in many European countries were very keen on procuring the mounted specimens and feathers. Several hundreds of Huia birds were exported overseas.

Between 1877-1889, an Austrian naturalist named Andreas Reischek took 212 pairs of Huia birds for the natural history museum in Vienna. In another event recorded by Walter Buller, a New Zealand naturalist, as many as 11 Maori hunters took 646 Huia skins from the forest ranges of Manawatu Gorge and Akitio during one month in 1883.

The local government and naturalists tried to step up to save Huia birds, but the protection measures were not strictly enforced. In 1892 the Wild Birds Protection Act of New Zealand was amended to include the Huia birds as a protected species in a last-ditch attempt.

However, in 1901, the shooting season notices ceased listing the hunting of Huia birds as illegal. There were even plans to transfer some of the Huia birds to the Kapiti, Little Barrier, and Resolution Islands, but those plans fell flat.

The popularity of Huia birds sealed their fate into extinction. New Zealand has also lost some other songbirds like the South Island piopio, Wren, and South Island kokako to extinction for similar reasons.

Who wears a Huia feather?

Maori of high rank wore the Huia feather as a hair decoration. Huia feathers represent leadership, nobility, and hierarchy. Wearing of its skin was also reserved for Maori of high class and status. Maori women also wore dried Huia heads as pendants.

Why is the Huia bird extinct?

Two main factors led to the extinction of Huia birds - widespread overhunting and habitat destruction. Huia was a popular game bird and was prized for its skin which would be mounted on the specimen, and its tail feathers would be used for decorating headgear.

The tail feathers of Huia birds among the Maoris were a sign of status. For this reason, there was an unrestrained level of overhunting of this iconic New Zealand bird.

The second factor that led to the Huia bird's extinction from New Zealand was the loss of its habitat to deforestation.

There was rampant deforestation on North Island to create agricultural farmland, and large areas of the natural forest were cleared off by burning. The Huia birds native to these ecological forests could never adapt to the secondary forests that regenerated in their place.

Predatory mammals like rats, cats, and others, also became rampant in these areas, so the Huia birds had a hard time fighting for their survival and eventually lost the battle.

And there you have it, a rollercoaster journey with the mesmerizing Huia. This incredible bird, with its unique beak and deep connection to the Maori culture, was a gem of New Zealand's avian world.

Yet, its story is a reminder of the fragile balance of nature. The Huia bird's uniqueness was both a blessing and a curse, making it admired but also a target for hunters.

In the end, it's important to take this captivating tale of the Huia birds to heart.

Every creature, big or small, has a unique role in the grand tapestry of this planet. All feathered friends need all hands on deck to ensure they don't meet the same fate as the Huia birds.

So cherish your bird buddies, explore the outdoors with respect, and share these wonderful stories to keep the spirit of the Huia alive. After all, you're part of the same extraordinary world, so make it a good one for every creature you share it with!

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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Fact-checked by Oluwapelumi Iwayemi

Bachelor of Science specializing in Systems Engineering

Oluwapelumi Iwayemi picture

Oluwapelumi IwayemiBachelor of Science specializing in Systems Engineering

Iwayemi is a creative content writer and editor studying for a Bachelor of Science specializing in Systems Engineering from the University of Lagos. He is skilled in research and has experience writing and editing content for different organizations.

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