Wings: Nature's Flying Machines | Hua rere a te taiao Te Papa's website Wings homepage

Exhibition Overview

Wings was a dynamic and interactive exhibition that presented the mysteries and marvels of flight in the natural world.

In Wings, you discovered how flying developed, why wings are essential for flying, and the many other purposes that wings serve. You could also find out how people have made use of nature's wings and how, through their observation and ingenuity, they have become wing-makers and flyers themselves.

From the model pterosaur to the moulting penguin to the dazzling array of winged insects, Wings was rich with great items from Te Papa's collections. Diagrams, working models, video clips, and interactives offered surprising and sometimes novel insights into the world of flight.

How wings work
Nature's supreme glider, the albatross, welcomed you to the exhibition. In this first part of Wings, both the albatross and a human-made glider illustrated the aerofoil shape that is essential to flying - to harness the force of lift. You could see how human-made wings imitated nature's wing shape.

The aerofoil shape features in boomerang blades too - explaining why boomerangs are excellent for long distance throwing. These human-made wings have been around for at least 10,000 years!

In Wings, you could experience for yourself the forces of lift by experimenting with a wing glove in a specially constructed wind tunnel.

Wings for communication
Here Wings immersed you in the story of people's fascination with flying. Winged beings and flying have probably figured in human imagination for as long as people have had the power to imagine.

People envisage winged messengers, such as angels, communicating between them and other realms. They have created wings in the form of kites to communicate with their gods as well as with each other. The advanced kite culture of Māori was celebrated with some unique kite taonga (treasures), both traditional and contemporary.

The extraordinary story of homing pigeons illustrates how people have made use of nature's wings for long distance communication. The practical knowledge of nature's wings that people have gained can be seen as part of the human invention of the flying machine.

Evolving flight
This section explored what it takes for an animal to get airborne. Film clips, animation, and a working model showed the muscle-power and coordination that go into flying. Insect and bird wing structures and birds' feathers were detailed - real miracles of nature.

Flying involves advanced use of the senses for simple things such as steering, finding food, and avoiding crashes. You could find out about fliers' acute sight and hearing, and the extraordinary achievements of nature's long-distance navigators.

You could also find out why some fliers might find it an advantage to become flightless!


Find out how this butterfly disguises itself as a leaf!
Click to view enlargement CLICK HERE

The diversity of wings
In this part of the exhibition, you encountered the variety of wings that animals have and the diverse purposes that wings can serve.

Four different groups of animals - insects, reptiles, bats, and birds - over millions of years have independently developed wings and the ability to fly. In that time, a wide range of wings and flying styles have evolved.

But animals don't just use their wings to fly. Falcons use their wings to become deadly missiles to stun their prey. Many animals use their wings for camouflage or to signal their charms to the opposite sex. Some wings are used to communicate by sound.

How it was
Wings was an exhibition that celebrated the wonders of nature's fliers - and also the imagination, observation, understanding, and ingenuity through which people have engaged with the world of flight.