Single Feather From Extinct Bird Sets Word Record Price At Auction.

An illustration of a pair of Huia, a bird which went extinct in 1907 (approx). The bird in the background with the long curved beak is an adult female and the bird in the foreground is an adult male. This image was published in Buller, Walter Lawry (1888) "Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris): male and female" in A History of the Birds of New Zealand, Volume 1 (2nd ed.), London: Self-published, pp. Plate II Retrieved on 7 September 2010.
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A single feather of the now extinct New Zealand huia bird has set a world record after being sold for price equivalent to  USD $28,417, at an auction at Webb’s Auction House in New Zealand.

The feather, initially expected to fetch up to $3,000 New Zealand dollars, broke the previous record which was for a feather of the same species by 450%, the Webb’s Auction House said.

“We are very pleased that this rare item of natural history has achieved such huge bidder interest,” said Leah Morris, Head of Decorative Arts at Webb’s Auction House, “highlighting the fragility of our ecosystem and the importance of looking after its fauna.” Potential buyers were required to provide a permit from the country’s Ministry for Culture & Heritage before they were allowed to purchase.

The huia bird (Heteralocha acutirostris) was a member of the wattle-bird family (Callaeidae) and its last credible, reported sighting was in 1907.

Photo by Webb’s auction house.

The huia bird was sacred to the Māori people. Their feathers were often worn as headpieces by chiefs and their families and also gifted or traded.

The plumage is distinct as it has a beautiful white tip across the edge, which made it highly coveted for decoration in wearable garments such as hats.

Its last confirmed sighting was in 1907, but unconfirmed sightings were reported for twenty to thirty years after that, according to the Museum of New Zealand.

The huia was a small songbird of the wattlebird family in New Zealand and was known for its jumping abilities and beautiful plumage, which is distinct for the white tip across the edge.

The feather sold on Monday was “in wonderful condition”, says Leah Morris, Head of Decorative Arts at Webb’s Auction House.

“It still has its very distinct sheen to it, and there was no insect damage,” she told the BBC.

She adds that the auction house framed the item behind UV protective glass and with archival paper, which means it will have a “really long life”.

The feather is registered as a taonga tūturu under a system to protect Maori made objects. Only collectors who had license in the system were allowed to purchase it, and it can not leave the country without permission from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

High interest and enthusiasm from New Zealanders also helped boost the price, according to Ms Morris.

“We got a record number of people are seeing how to become registered collectors,” she says. “In New Zealand, we care so much about looking after the land, and the environment and our flora and fauna.”

“And I think maybe because this bird is now extinct, we’d look at other birds in New Zealand and say, we don’t want that to ever happen again,” she adds.

In the past, the huia feathers were a status mark to Māori people. Already a rare bird before the arrival of Europeans, the species became a target for collectors and fashion merchants after it gained popularity among those who came to New Zealand, which led to its extinction, according to the Museum of New Zealand.

Sources: BBC, Webbs Auction House
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