At the earliest stage of European settlement, piopio were numerous and "might be found in any bushy place not too far from water, where belts of shrubs afforded shelter and abundance of seeds", but numbers were apparently declining rapidly by the 1870s. One of New Zealand’s most ardent pioneering conservationists, Thomas Henry Potts (1873) noted:
"...ten years at least have passed since we heard of its occurrence in this neighbourhood (Governor’s Bay on Banks’s Peninsula); it is now scarce in the bush-dotted gullies of the Malvern Hills, the Thirteen-mile Bush, Alford Forest, and in many other localities where it was not very uncommon. Let an enthusiastic naturalist now traverse these places in quest of our feathered philosopher, he will find he has become a rara avis indeed."
In the absence of predators, piopio were trusting of humans and were successfully kept as cage birds, with eggs being laid in captivity up to the early 1900s.
A lack of momentum, comprehension and, most notably, predator-free sanctuaries derailed plans to conserve the species, and by the early 1900s it was effectively extinct.
Small, isolated populations of Turnagra capensis capensis may have survived until the mid 1900s, with 2 being reported as late as 1949 at Lake Hauroko (Fuller 1987).
Turnagra capensis capensis minor was still apparently abundant in 1894, but was decimated by introduced cats by 1898 (Tennyson and Martinson 2006).