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Haast's Eagle
Artist's rendition of a Haast's Eagle
attacking moa
Conservation status

Extinct  (1400) (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Accipitriformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Harpagornis
Species: H. moorei
Binomial name
Harpagornis moorei
Haast, 1872

Haast's Eagle, (Harpagornis moorei), was a species of massive eagles that once lived on the South Island of New Zealand. The species is the largest eagle known to have existed and sometimes is known as the Giant Eagle. 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 moas, 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] A different theory posits that the "Hokioi" legends may refer to the New Zealand Snipe – specifically, 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, Hokioi 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

A model on display at Te Papa of a Haast's Eagle attacking a moa with its large talons

Haast's Eagles were the largest known true raptors, 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 surviving eagles (the largest now being 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 and increased maneuverability.

The strong legs and massive flight muscles of these eagles would have enabled the birds to take off with a jumping start from the ground, despite their great weight. The tail was almost certainly long, up to 50 cm (20 inches) in female specimens, and very broad. This characteristic would have increased maneuverability and compensated for the reduction in wing area by providing additional lift.[3] Total length is estimated to have been up to 1.4 m (4 ft 7 in) in females, with a standing height of approximately 90 cm (2 ft 11 in) tall or perhaps slightly greater.

Haast's Eagles preyed on large, flightless bird species, including the moa, which was up to fifteen times the weight of the eagle.[3] It is estimated to have attacked at speeds up to 80 km/h (50 mph), often seizing its prey's pelvis with the talons of one foot and killing with a blow to the head or neck with the other. Its size and weight indicate a bodily striking force equivalent to a cinder block landing on a target from a height of 25 m (82 ft).[citation needed] Its large beak also could be used to rip into the internal organs of its prey and death then, would have been caused by blood loss. In the absence of other large predators or scavengers, a Haast's Eagle easily could have monopolised a single large kill over a number of days.

Extinction

Early human settlers in New Zealand (the Māori arrived about 1,000 years ago) preyed heavily on large flightless birds, including all moa species, eventually hunting them to extinction. The loss of its natural prey caused the Haast's Eagle to become extinct as well around 1400 CE,[4] when the last of its natural food sources were depleted. The eagles also may have been hunted by humans.

Comparative morphology of Haast's Eagle with its closest living relative, the Little Eagle

A noted explorer, Charles Douglas, claims in his journals that he had an encounter with two raptors of immense size in Landsborough River valley (probably during the 1870s), and that he shot and ate them.[5] These birds might have been a last remnant of the species, but some might argue that there had not been suitable prey for a population of Haast's Eagle to maintain itself for about five hundred years before that date,[citation needed] and nineteenth century Māori lore was adamant that the pouakai was a bird not seen in living memory. Still, Douglas' observations on wildlife generally are not trustworthy; a more probable explanation, given that the alleged three-metre wingspan described by Douglas is likely to have been a rough estimate, is that the birds were Eyles' Harriers. This was the largest known harrier (the size of a small eagle) — and a generalist predator — and although it is also assumed to have become extinct in prehistoric times, its dietary habits alone make it a more likely candidate for late survival.

Until recent human colonisation that introduced rodents and cats, the only mammals found on the island of New Zealand were three species of bat, one of which recently has become extinct. Free from terrestrial mammalian competition and predatory threat, birds occupied or dominated, all major niches in the New Zealand animal ecology because there were no threats to their eggs and chicks by small terrestrial animals. Moa were grazers, functionally similar to deer or cattle in other habitats, and Haast's Eagles were the hunters who filled the same niche as top-niche mammalian predators, such as tigers or lionesses.

Classification

DNA analysis has shown that this raptor is related most closely to the much smaller, Little Eagle, as well as the Booted Eagle. Both of these species recently were reclassified as belonging to the genus, Aquila [6] and not, as previously thought, to the large Wedge-tailed Eagle.[7] Thus, Harpagornis moorei may be reclassified as Aquila moorei, pending confirmation. H. moorei may have diverged from these smaller eagles as recently as 700,000 to 1.8 million years ago. Its increase in weight by ten to fifteen times over that period is the greatest and quickest evolutionary increase in weight of any known vertebrate. This was made possible in part by the presence of large prey and the absence of competition from other large predators.

Haast's Eagle was first classified by Julius von Haast in the 1870s,[1] who named it Harpagornis moorei after George Henry Moore, the owner of the Glenmark Estate where bones of the bird had been found.

In art

Artwork depicting Haast's Eagle now may be viewed at OceanaGold's Heritage & Art Park at Macraes, Otago, New Zealand. The sculpture, weighing approximately 750 kg (1,700 lb; 118 st), standing 7.5 metres (25 ft) tall, and depicted with a wingspan of 11.5 metres (38 ft) is constructed from stainless steel tube and sheet and was designed and constructed by Mark Hill, a sculptor from Arrowtown, New Zealand.[8]

In popular culture

The Haast's Eagle is featured in the BBC series, Monsters We Met. The incident depicted in the series takes place in New Zealand as humans are just starting to arrive on the island. Here the female eagle is seen targeting two people, a woman and a child, who are walking on a grass field beneath. It attacks the woman, killing her instantly, and begins to consume the woman. While this scene enfolds the narrator relates that the eagle may stay by her large kill for days and was capable of bringing human beings as food to her young.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Rodgers, Paul (14 September 2009). "Maori legend of man-eating bird is true". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/maori-legend-of-maneating-bird-is-true-1786867.html. Retrieved 14 September 2009. 
  2. ^ Miskelly, C. M. (1987). "The identity of the hakawai". Notornis 34 (2): 95–116. http://www.notornis.org.nz/free_issues/Notornis_34-1987/Notornis_34_2.pdf. 
  3. ^ a b Brathwaite, D. H. (12 1992). "Notes on the weight, flying ability, habitat, and prey of Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis moorei)". Notornis 39 (4): 239–247. http://www.notornis.org.nz/free_issues/Notornis_39-1992/Notornis_39_4_239.pdf. "Ornithology of the Southern Pacific". 
  4. ^ Tennyson, A.; Martinson, P. (2006). Extinct Birds of New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press. ISBN 978-0-909010-21-8. 
  5. ^ Worthy, T. H.; R. N. Holdaway (2002). The lost world of the Moa: Prehistoric Life of New Zealand. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34034-9. 
  6. ^ Lerner, H. R. L.; D. P. Mindell (2005). "Phylogeny of eagles, Old World vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 37 (2): 327–346. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.04.010. PMID 15925523. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~hlerner/LernerMindell2005Proofs.pdf. 
  7. ^ Bunce, M.; et al. (2005). "Ancient DNA Provides New Insights into the Evolutionary History of New Zealand's Extinct Giant Eagle". PLoS Biology 3 (1): e9. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030009. PMID 15660162. 
  8. ^ "Giant art sculptures pop up in Otago". New Zealand: 3 News. 2008-12-20. http://www.3news.co.nz/Video/Giant-art-sculptures-pop-up-in-Otago/tabid/372/articleID/85193/cat/58/Default.aspx#video. "Lifestyle - Video On Demand"  text version

External links

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Simple English

Haast's Eagle
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus: Harpagornis
Species: H. moorei
Binomial name
Harpagornis moorei
Haast, 1872

The Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis moorei) was the largest eagle ever to have lived and is the only eagle in the world ever to have been top predator of its ecosystem. It lived on the South Island of New Zealand.

Fossil evidence shows that the areas where the Haast’s Eagle lived were covered in forest and shrublands, as well as in the grasslands on river floodplains.

The arrival of people in New Zealand had unfortunate consequences for the eagle by 1400 AD, most of the forest habitat it used had been cleared by fire, and most of the large flightless birds that it ate had been hunted to extinction.


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