Not just hobbits, kiwis and sheepPosted: September 16, 2009
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