New Zealand birds evolved in isolation over millions of years. Unlike elsewhere, there were no land mammals such as bears, badgers, lions or goats. Free from attack and competition from mammals, many birds became ground-dwellers. They were therefore natural prey for humans and the predators they brought, and vulnerable to land clearance. In New Zealand, European settlers noticed the evidence for the extinction of the megafauna – moa and other large birds – from around the late 1830s


THE HUIA - The huia was unique as the only bird in the world with completely different beak forms in the male and female.

The extinct huia Heteralocha acutirostris was endemic, as the only species in the Heteralocha genus, which belongs to the Callaeidae family, of the Passeriformes order of perching birds.

The huia was one of only three species that make up the entire Callaeidae family of New Zealand wattlebirds, which is endemic. Today, the family only includes kokako Callaeas cinerea, and saddleback Philesturnus carunculatus. The wattlebirds of New Zealand are not found anywhere else in the world, and the huia was unique as the only bird in the world with completely different beak forms in the male and female.

The ancient Callaeidae family flew to New Zealand 60 million years ago, and like many birds in the isolated archipelago, adopted ground feeding habits in an ecology devoid of mammalian predators with the exception of three bat species.

Extinction of the huia Heteralocha acutirostris in 1907 was a tragic loss to New Zealand's ancient native avifauna. It serves as a reminder of the importance of bird protection.

The huia was probably New Zealand's most eccentric bird. It was a large 48 cm (19 inch) black bird with a bright orange "wattle" at the base of an ivory beak. It had a distinguishing wide band of white at the end of its long tail feathers.

The remains of species including large extinct geese, adzebills, and the giant Haast’s eagle, were discovered before the end of the 19th century. Just how many smaller birds had become extinct was not realised until after 1990, when the food remains of the extinct laughing owl were discovered and analysed. Beneath the owl’s former roosts in sheltered caves were layers of bones of their prey, piled up over centuries. These bones were evidence of the former abundance of birds such as saddlebacks, now killed off on the mainland, and surviving only on predator-free islands.