The territory of the huia was restricted to the mountains and lowland forest of the south half of New Zealand's North Island. Introduced mammalian and bird species, and habitat loss due to cultivation also contributed to the decline of a species that seemed never to have been widely distributed in the first place. The huia was prized both by Maoris for their tail feathers and by Europeans as stuffed specimens for museums, cabinets and drawing room decorations. The portrait artist, C.F. Goldie depicts a Maori chief wearing four huia tail feathers in his hair, in his 1913 painting, The Last of the Cannibals. Worn in battle, offered as tokens of friendship or respect, tail feathers embodied enormous power and value. Indeed, they were carefully stored in beautifully carved treasure boxes known as waka huia. Europeans admired their dramatic orange wattles and were intrigued by the stark sexual dimorphism exhibited in the shapes of their bills. This adaption allows for cooperation between sexes in the gathering of food; the male's stouter bill breaking open wood crevices so the female's slender bill can extract insect larvae. This behavioural bond may also have contributed to its demise, because if one bird was captured or shot, its mate would show signs of distress and remain in the area endangering itself, rather than fleeing. Sir Walter Buller's, A History of the Birds of New Zealand, in 1872 noted that at that time the species was far from abundant, and by the time the supplement was published thirty-three years later in 1905, he accepted that the huia was already doomed to extinction. The last recorded sighting was just a couple of years later in 1907, although unconfirmed accounts suggested some pairs living on until the 1920's.
For a similar pair of huia see; Bonhams, The Owston Collection, 26 June 2010, lot 978, sold for $33,000.