Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Haast’s eagle surveys Te Taiao: in focus

Behind the birds on display at Te Papa, Stuff, 25 June 2019

As part of the new Te Taiao exhibition at Te Papa, Jake Yocum recreated the apex predator Haast’s eagle.

Step into Jake Yocum’s workshop and it might seem like you’re stepping into a macabre wonderland.

There’s boxes of feathers, bags of eyes and bits of birds scattered around. But don’t worry, they’re not real – mostly.

View video here

Yocum has been busy working at Te Papa over the last few months on the new Te Taiao exhibition, recreating extinct birds. That includes a full-size model of Haast’s eagle, an apex predator that hunted moa throughout the country more than 600 years ago.

“It came here and there was no competition, no natural enemies and it goes straight to the top of the food chain,” Yocum said, “eating moa protein shakes.”

Recreating the giant bird took Yocum around five months. He researched similar birds of prey, such as bald and golden eagles and even ended up turning to an American law enforcement guide on the trafficking of bald eagle feathers to get a better idea of what the Haast eagle’s feathers were like.

The finished Haast's eagle looms over the new Te Taiao exhibition.
The finished Haast’s eagle looms over the new Te Taiao exhibition. Ross Giblin/Stuff


At its core, the bird is a metal armature, with an insulation-like foam around it. Over that is a combination of resins, silicones and epoxy to help give it shape and form features like the beak and feet.

Yocum used real bird feathers and skin for the outer layers, all ethically sourced from a hunting company called Feather Girl.

“Three wild roosters, 12 peahens, 400 turkey feathers and 160 male peacock tail feathers,” he lists.

An early cast of an eagle talon in the workshop.
An early cast of an eagle talon in the workshop. Ross Giblin/Stuff


Yocum will be going more in-depth on his creative process as part of the first Te Papa Friends Takeover: Access All Areas. On June 27, the museum will be opening its doors to members of Friends of Te Papa for a look behind the scenes.

Manager of the Friends programme Demi Heath said the evening, which included live music and a series of tours, was free and open to members, but people could sign up to the programme on the night to gain access.

As well as talks from experts like Yocum, areas of the museum that aren’t normally open to the public will be up for exploration, including the library on the mezzanine floor and the learning lab Hīnātore.

Yocum created a half-size marquette to help figure out the scale.
Yocum created a half-size maquette to help figure out the scale. Ross Giblin/Stuff


* Te Papa’s Friend Takeover: Access All Areas is on June 27 between 6.30pm and 9.30pm with tours taking place throughout the night. To find out more or to sign up to the Friends programme, visit friendsoftepapa.org.nz.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.