Not just hobbits, kiwis and sheep

Now we can add giant eagles the size of hang-gliders to the list of New Zealand’s characteristic fauna.


The New Zealand Herald ran a story this week about a giant raptor, Haast’s Eagle, which seems to be the basis for Maori legends of man-eating birds. Recently revisiting the few fossils available of the birds, and using newly available technology, paleontologists have been able to better predict the lifestyle of these massive predators that became extinct only 500 years ago.

Because New Zealand was always so isolated geographically from the rest of the world, birds took over the ecological niches that mammals evolved to exploit elsewhere. This explains the unique birdlife of the islands including the kiwi, moa and Haast’s eagle.

And I love the line from the newspaper quoting Canterbury Museum curator Dr. Paul Schofield: “Haast’s eagle wasn’t just the equivalent of a giant predatory bird. It was the equivalent of a lion.”

Yep. A flying lion, possessed of a 3m wingspan and 4cm long talons, that could reach speeds of 80km when diving onto its unsuspecting prey! Yowsah.

Image acknowledgement: John Megahan


One Comment on “Not just hobbits, kiwis and sheep”

  1. verdant1 says:

    And this is one reason why extinction is not always an entirely bad thing – for the rest of us anyway. I know it kinda sucks for the eagles!
    Speaking as a New Zealander trying to raise kids here, I’m quite grateful that I don’t have to constantly worry about giant eagle-lions swooping down and carrying off my young – or me for that matter!
    Althouhgh they would have had a great time with all the possums we’d rather not have here…

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