Dr Michael Brooke, Curator of Birds in the Museum of Zoology writes:
As Curator of Birds, I have the privilege of being able to pull open drawers of bird skins in the Bird Room. Yes, the birds may be a little fusty and smell of moth balls, yes, they may have evidently fallen off their perches – but how evocative! None more so than the drawers of Hawaiian birds, mostly collected around 140 years ago. Many of these are tiny red or yellow honeycreepers, jewels of the forest whose wild populations have drastically dwindled in the intervening years as avian malaria, arriving in the archipelago in the early part of the twentieth century, devastated the native birds of lowland Hawaii. In nearby drawers are examples of the now extinct species of o’o. Once upon a time, individual o’os were caught by native Hawaiians, plucked of the bright yellow feathers of the underwing, and released to fly another day. Then the o’os and honeycreepers were sufficiently abundant that they could supply an estimated 450,000 feathers for the ceremonial cloak of King Kamehameha. Today the o’os are gone but not forgotten. A recent DNA study, using specimens from the Museum, established that, while in appearance the birds seem close to the honeyeaters of Australia, they are actually allied to various North American birds.
I close the drawer and almost weep at what we have lost.