Hieraaetus attacking moa (moa could reach 12 feet in height)

Name Meaning:  Hawk Eagle

Alternate Name:  Haast’s Eagle

Location Found:  New Zealand

Size:  Up to 3 meter wingspan, 20-33 pounds

Estimated Range:  New Zealand

Extinction Date:  Around 1400 AD

Pictured below is a replica of the foot and talons of Haast’s eagle. To give an idea of size, see my hand holding on to the base. In life, the foot probably would have had the color scheme pictured above, with yellow scales and black claws.

Haast’s eagle evolved on the island of New Zealand, and is a classic example of island gigantism. This is where animals isolated on an island or islands eventually grow much larger than their mainland counterparts. Haast’s eagle’s primary prey was the moa, an ostrich like bird that could attain heights of 12 feet. Generally speaking, the bigger the prey, the bigger the predator. New Zealand was also rather unique in the complete lack of mammalian predators, leaving Haast’s eagle as the apex predator of its environment. With attack speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, getting hit by one of these birds would be like having cinder block dropped on you from several stories up.

Comparison of Haast’s eagle foot (top) to Little eagle foot (closest relative)

Humans likely had a direct hand in the extinction of Haast’s eagle. Humans arrived on the island of New Zealand in the late 13th century. By the year 1400, the moa had been hunted to extinction. Since the moa was the primary prey animal of Haast’s eagle, it became extinct shortly afterward. Haast’s eagle survived in Maori legend as the Pouakai. According to legend, this bird can and did attack and kill people. Given that the primary prey was a 12 foot tall bird, an adult human or child would have been an easy target for such a large eagle.

Image Credits:

Claws: By (see above) – Bunce M, Szulkin M, Lerner HRL, Barnes I, Shapiro B, et al.: Ancient DNA Provides New Insights into the Evolutionary History of New Zealand’s Extinct Giant Eagle. PLoS Biol 3/1/2005: e9. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030009, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1378523

Life Restoration: By John Megahan – Ancient DNA Tells Story of Giant Eagle Evolution. PLoS Biol 3(1): e20. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030020.g001, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52877