Heteralocha acutirostris

The Huia bird, unique to New Zealand, was a wattle bird (family Callaeidae) with bright orange fleshy protrusions on either side of its beak and it averaged 19 inches long. The males had short blunt beaks about 2 1/2 inches in length and the females had long curved beaks over 3 1/2 inches long. This distinction led scientists to initially classify the males and females as two different species. Both male and female birds had slightly iridescent black feathers with white tips and ivory colored beaks.

The Huia fed primarily upon insects, especially those living in wood or under bark such as the Huhu beetle grub, Prionoplus reticularis. It is believed that the males and females worked in tandem to gather food, with the males breaking the surface of the wood while the female probed with her longer beak to retrieve insects. However, many scientists disagree with this theory since no other species has such a pronounced sexual dimorphism.

The Maori prized the bird for its beautiful feathers which they used in many of their crafts and considered it sacred above all other animals. Only great chiefs could acceptably wear its feathers, until the coming of the Europeans brought down the importance of such ranks. Its head or beak was incorporated into various ear adornments and the standard ceremonial war plume consisted of twelve Huia feathers which, when not in use, were stored in ornately carved boxes.

The Huia population was steadily brought down as its forest habitats were cleared to open land for pasture and new predators were introduced to New Zealand. In the 19th century, many of the birds were killed for collectors and biologists. In 1888, Maori chiefs in the Manawatu and Wairarapa areas declared the Huia protected (tapu) and forbid any Maori from killing the bird. The Maori asked Europeans to stop their hunts and even tried to relocated Huia to island sanctuaries.

These efforts were not enough and the final blow was struck in 1901 when the Duke of York visited Rotorua, New Zealand. A Huia feather was placed in his hatband to signify his rank and photographs of this appeared in London newspapers. Almost overnight, Huia feathers became a required fashion and their price skyrocketed. The bounties paid for the birds made even the Maori willing to hunt the once sacred bird, especially as they neared extinction. The last official sighting of a Huia bird was in 1907 and they were declared extinct in the 1920s.

In 1999, the Hastings Boy's High School organized a conference to discuss the feasibility and ethics of cloning the Huia bird, their school mascot, in order to revive the species. A panel of scientists and ethicists met in July to discuss the possibility of such a project. It was determined that the benefit to the Maori and the country of New Zealand made this an acceptable venture in cloning. Cells would be harvested from the bones and tendons of preserved specimens and this material would be injected into an ovum of an existing (and presumably related) bird species.

One of the primary sponsors involved was an Internet startup named cyberuni.org, inc. which no longer exists and whose domain now points to a porn web site. No news regarding actual progress in cloning the Huia has been released beyond the initial conference reports.

Unconfirmed reports claim that the Huia's song was heard in Urewera about 30 years ago.

The Huia bird appeared on the reverse of the New Zealand six-pence coin (minted 1933-1957).

Sources: http://www.enn.com/, http://www.nzbirds.com/
If you have any more information on the cloning project or any corrections, please /msg me.

Hu"ia bird` (?). [Native name; -- so called from its cry.] Zool.

A New Zealand starling (Heteralocha acutirostris), remarkable for the great difference in the form and length of the bill in the two sexes, that of the male being sharp and straight, that of the female much longer and strongly curved.


© Webster 1913.

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