Huia. by larrywkoester on Flickr

Melodious as its Māori name, the gentle Huia bird
seems a fowl lost from an ancient bestiary.

Always in pairs, their life one long low liquid interchange,
they rarely flew, but hopped and probed in deepest thickets
preening and balancing, antiphonal.

They fed upon the luscious huhu grub
under mossed and lichened podocarps
— fed and hopped so lovingly together
that if a Māori noosed one bird, its mate would come to hand.

Working together, joint custodians, His straight crow-bar beak
and Her thin curving probe, utterly unlike, conjoined
to wingle out tree-eating grubs.

Never widespread or numerous, their superb sober
plumes made mourning-wear for centuries
until Cook visited. The stuffed ones soon
were ‘musts’ for lounge-rooms, though few knew
how well their natures fitted these strange bills.

Charmed by his captive pair,
Buller records how native know-how and the foreign gun
took in 600 skins from a week’s work
— most of the world’s remaining stock:
‘Now safely on the increase’. A common bird today
in Auckland’s antique shops, its loving notes
that ranged from purest whistles to what seemed
a puppy’s whining call, are gone, lost,
all before the age of tapes and films.
The bird remains supreme in words
of those who loved and stuffed it.

And our museum has one — that is,
of course, a pair.

— by Mark O’Connor.