Huia

A perching Bird of the Wattlebird family (Callaeatidae) of New Zealand, supposed extinct since 1907.

Etymology: Maori (Austronesian) word, from its distinctive call.

Scientific name: Heteralocha acutirostris, given by John Gould in 1836.

Physical description: Black plumage with metallic green gloss. Length, 19 inches. Orange facial wattles. Males have medium-length, sturdy bills; females have long, curved bills. The difference in bills between the two sexes is unique among bird species. Both bills are ivory-colored. Large, black tail feathers with white tips.

Behavior: Call is soft and fluting. Formerly prized by the Maori for its tail feathers.

Habitat: Beech and podocarp forests.

Distribution: When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, Huias were found in the southern half of North Island, from East Cape to Wellington. Any survivors may have moved north to the Urewera State Forest or the Tarawera Range.

Significant sightings: Throughout the 1920s, some twenty-three unsubstantiated reports were logged. Signs of Huias were found during an official search in 1924, though no living birds were seen.

On October 12, 1961, Margaret Hutchinson spotted a Huia at Lake Waikareti in the Urew-era State Forest, North Island, noting its distinctive tail.

In 1991, Danish zoologist Lars Thomas claimed to have seen a Huia in the Pureora Forest, North Island.

Present status: Presumed extinct since shortly after December 28, 1907, when W. W. Smith spotted two males and a female; this is considered the final official sighting. Scientists and ethicists meeting in New Zealand in July 1999 agreed to allow the cloning of a Huia, using preserved DNA samples.

Sources: William J. Phillipps, The Book ofthe Huia (Christchurch, New Zealand: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1963); Margaret Hutchinson, "I Thought I Saw a Huia Bird," Birds 3 (September-October 1970): 110-113; Karl Shuker, Extraordinary Animals Worldwide (London: Robert Hale, 1991), pp. 83-86; Lars Thomas, Mysteriet om Havuhyrerne (Copenhagen: Gyldendal Boghandel, 1992); "Cloning of Extinct Huia Bird Approved," Environmental News Network, July 20, 1999; Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 367-372.

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