The haast eagle was a great predator and the largest eagle in the world. It lived in New Zealand at least 600 years ago. These immense birds weighed up to 15 kg, with the size of 2.5 meters.
In prehistoric times, New Zealand's South Island was an oasis for a number of unique birds, yet this imposing eagle became extinct around 1400.
The world's largest eagle
New Zealand was a thriving wildlife ecosystem and unique, therefore unlike anywhere else on Earth. This was before the arrival of humans. The haast eagle was the largest predator at the time.
They were probably at the top of the South Island food chain and fed on other local birds such as aptornis, weka, takehe, duck and geese. But their main source of food was the moa, one of the largest animals on the site. Moas were giant flightless birds that weighed about 200 kg.
Although the eagle was known to eat mostly birds, it is believed that the predator may have attacked Maori human tribes. Young children were most vulnerable to these attacks and in a frightening way. Studies have found that the eagle was strong and huge enough to attack humans and feed on them as well.
Still, a 2019 analysis of that animal's genetics surprised researchers when it revealed that the world's largest eagle was closely related to Australia's Little Eagle, a small breed.
Discovery of the eagle
The South Island is the most common area of New Zealand and is where researchers discovered the bones of this bird.
In addition, scientists estimate that the haast eagle first appeared on the island about 2 million years ago, before evolving into the giant eagle.
What is known is that the world's largest eagle terrified the human inhabitants of New Zealand, even though its existence was unknown to European scientists until 1871.
The discovery came when museum taxidermist Frederik Fuller dug up its bones while exploring a bog in North Canterbury.
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Since then, we have the scientific description of the bird.
The extinction of the eagle
From this revelation, we also have some information about the eagle and the period in which it lived.
When the Maori tribe arrived on the island of New Zealand in the 13th century, birds ruled the land.
The site was also a secluded haven of unique flora and fauna that flourished due to its remote location.
Another point is that the abundance of moa animal bones and other specimens excavated at the early dumping sites suggested that human settlers depended on these birds for their meat, skin and feathers.
Of course, overhunting by humans has decreased the population of moa - the main food of the haast eagle.
So it became difficult for the haast eagle to thrive without its main food source.
The bird probably died soon after.
This theory is further supported by scientific estimates that the giant eagle disappeared around the same time as the moa, some 500 to 600 years ago.
The extinction of the haast eagle is an example of how human influence on Earth brings consequences.