Join BirdNote tomorrow, November 30th!
Illustrator David Sibley and actor H. Jon Benjamin will face off in the bird illustration battle of the century during BirdNote's Year-end Celebration and Auction!
Thousands of years ago, giant raptors lived on what is now Cuba. Gigantohierax is an extinct genus of eagles whose fossils have been found in local cave deposits and tar seeps. With an estimated weight of nearly 30 pounds, Gigantohierax suarezi, the larger of the two named species, would’ve been the biggest raptor known from the Americas.
Cuba’s Giant Eagles
Written by Adé Ben-Salahuddin
This is BirdNote.
[Waves breaking on the beach]
When humans first arrived on what is now Cuba, they would’ve encountered an ecosystem somewhat different than we know it today.
[Birdsong in Cuba]
The ancestors of the Guanajatabey people likely shared the island with sloths as big as black bears ambling through the open woodlands. Monk seals lounging on the beaches. Long-legged owls the size of children stalking the forest floor at night. And all of them living in the shadow of a giant.
Gigantohierax is an extinct genus of eagles whose fossils have been found in local cave deposits and tar seeps. They’ve left only scant remains, mostly leg bones. But the fossils show that these birds were heavily built and massive. With an estimated weight of nearly 30 pounds, Gigantohierax suarezi, the larger of the two named species, would’ve been the biggest raptor known from the Americas, barely edged out by the similarly sized Haast’s Eagle of New Zealand. This would make them ten times heavier than the Red-tailed Hawk.
[Red-tailed Hawk screech call]
Little else is known about Gigantohierax, but forthcoming research may help us better understand the lifestyle and appearance of these awesome Antillean eagles, and the lost ecosystem of the island they ruled.
For BirdNote, I’m Adé Ben-Salahuddin.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Editor: Jazzi Johnson
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Cuban Bullfinch ML183566 recorded by Tim Burr, and Red-tailed Hawk ML166694 Jay McGowan.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2023 BirdNote January 2023
Narrator: Adé Ben-Salahuddin
ID# gigantohierax-01-2022-01-25 gigantohierax-01
Cover art by Hodari Nundu
Original publication naming and describing Gigantohierax suarezi
Plain language description of Gigantohierax from A Dinosaur A Day