Nz was once a haven for mythological bird-creature

New Zealand was once a haven for mythological bird-creatures brought to flesh by its isolation including the giant Haast’s eagle also known as te Pouakai.

Maori legends talk about te Pouakai, meaning ‘old glutton.’ The legend speaks of a giant bird strong enough to carry men, women, and children to its eyrie on Mt Torlesse. Adding credence towards the legends would be a picture of the giant bird present in a cave attracting Craigmore, Timaru.

In 1871, Frederick Fuller, a taxidermist, was a part of a team of excavators on Glenmark Station who were searching for moa bones, another of New Zealand's giant wonders that has since become extinct. It was Mr Fuller who first recognised that the bones he’d found belonged to a different bird; a large bird of prey. He took these bones to Julian Haast, the first director of Canterbury Museum, who was the first one to describe them.

While many bones have been found there are only three complete skeletons of Haast's eagle, which, today, can be found at Otago Museum, Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington and the Natural History Museum working in london.

Insight into Haast’s Eagle

The scientific name for Haast’s eagle has been changed to Aquila moorei. Before change it was Harpagornis moorei. Harpagornis known a Greek monster, the Harpy, shaped from the woman’s head and trunk with a bird’s wings and claws. Moorei is really a tribute to honour George Moore, who owns Glenmark Station where the bones were first found.

The remains of Haast's eagle only have been found in the South Island of recent Zealand. They provide an insight into the largest eagle to possess ever endured a wingspan approaching 3 metres and a weight of up to 13kgs depending on sex. The females were the larger of these two.

Given the relatively small wingspan when compared to weight, Haast’s eagle likely belonged towards the forest rather than soaring outdoors skies. Perched at height waiting for prey, the eagle would dive, reaching speeds as high as 80km/h. They had strong legs to absorb the impact of attack, talons comparable to a tiger's along with a flesh-tearing beak. Without competition to fear they might remain with their victimize the ground for days, feeding from this.

More about this topic

    Giant Birds Ate Flightless Moa in New ZealandKiller Eagle – Terror from the SkiesNew Zealand’s Unique Birds

    Amongst its prey was the flightless moa. Some scientists believe the eagle could bring down a moa weighing as much as 250kg. Talon marks observed on moa remains show the eagle crushed the moa’s hindquarters and also the base of the neck.

    What Happened?

    It is believed that Haast’s eagle, as a large predator with small population sizes, was vulnerable to environmental changes. But man and bird are believed to possess co-existed, using the youngest bones dated around 500years old.

    When Maori finally arrived in Nz they brought changes that threatened the diversity of life that had blossomed here. There was competition for food, for habitat, and not only from the humans themselves but also the pests that they brought. It is thought that Haast's eagle died out right after the moa was a victim of extinction.

    These same changes still threaten the enduring bird populations in Nz. Haast’s eagle otherwise known as te Pouakai was a legend brought to life in 1871 using the discovery of its remains. These remains tell the tale from the largest eagle on the planet bringing its existence back to life.


    TENNYSON, M.; MARTINSON, P., 2006: Extinct Birds of New Zealand, Te Papa Press

    HUTCHING, G., 2004: Back from the Brink, Penguin Group

    HUTCHING, G., 1998: The Natural Realm of New Zealand, Penguin Group (last accessed 14/04/2012)


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