Haast's Eagle

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Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis moorei) was a species of massive eagles that once lived on the South Island of New Zealand. The species was the largest eagle known to have existed. Its prey consisted mainly of gigantic flightless birds that were unable to defend themselves from the striking force and speed of these eagles, which at times reached 80 km/h (50 mph). The Haast's Eagle became extinct about 1400 CE, when its major food sources, the moa, were hunted to extinction by humans living on the island and much of its dense-forest habitat was cleared.

Contents

Name

It is believed that these birds are described in many legends of the Māori, under the names Pouakai, Hokioi, or Hakawai.[1] However, it has been ascertained that the "Hakawai" and "Hokioi" legends refer to the Coenocorypha snipe – in particular the extinct South Island subspecies.[2] According to an account given to Sir George Gray, an early governor of New Zealand, Hokioi were huge black-and-white predators with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips. In some Māori legends, Pouakai kill humans, which scientists believe could have been possible if the name relates to the eagle, given the massive size and strength of the bird.[1]

Size and habits

Haast's Eagles were the largest known true raptors, slightly larger even than the largest living vultures. Female eagles are significantly larger than males. Females of the Haast species are believed to have weighed 10–15 kg (22–33 lb) and males 9–12 kg (20–26 lb). They had a relatively short wingspan, measuring roughly 2.6–3 m (8 ft 6 in–9 ft 10 in). This wingspan is similar to that of some extant eagles (the wingspan now reported in large specimens of Golden Eagles and Steller's Sea Eagles). Even the largest extant eagles, however, are about forty percent smaller in body size than the size of Haast's Eagles.

Short wings may have aided Haast's Eagles when hunting in the dense scrubland and forests of New Zealand. Haast's Eagle sometimes is portrayed incorrectly as having evolved toward flightlessness, but this is not so; rather it represents a departure from the mode of its ancestors' soaring flight, toward higher wing loading.[3]

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