Evolution on islands can produce unusually large species. Haast’s Eagle lived on the islands now known as New Zealand. With a wingspan of 9 feet and weighing up to 30 pounds, the eagle hunted the moa — a flightless bird that stood over ten feet tall. The eagles probably vanished not long after their moa prey went extinct, about 500 to 600 years ago. A site called the Cave of the Eagle contains Maori paintings of Haast’s Eagles, preserving the legacy of this immense raptor.
An Enormous Eagle Evolves
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[New Zealand soundscape, https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GhoBfvPa2rc]
Evolution on isolated islands can produce unusual — and sometimes unusually large — results. Some of the biggest birds ever to have lived evolved on the islands now known as New Zealand, including an enormous raptor called Haast’s Eagle.
With a wingspan of 9 feet and weighing up to 30 pounds, more than twice the mass of a Bald Eagle, this huge predator hunted the moa — a flightless bird that stood over ten feet tall.
In evolutionary time, Haast’s Eagle bulked up quickly, from an ancestor about the size of a Red-tailed Hawk. One of its closest living relatives is the Little Eagle found in Australia —the world’s smallest eagle.
[Little Eagle, ML 273379511, 0.03-.05]
With no land predators to compete with and plenty of moas to prey on, Haast’s Eagle attained about ten times the weight of its founding ancestor in just two million years.
After the Maori [MOW-ri] people arrived on the islands, the giant birds began to go extinct. The eagles probably vanished not long after their moa prey, about 500 to 600 years ago.
However, a protected site on New Zealand’s South Island called the Cave of the Eagle contains Maori paintings of Haast’s Eagles. Their artwork preserves the legacy of this immense raptor.
For BirdNote, I’m Ariana Remmel.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Little Eagle ML 273379511 recorded by C. Andrews.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote April 2022 Narrator: Ariana Remmel
ID# HAAEAG-01-2022-04-21 HAAEAG-01