Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis)

Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis)

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Haast's Eagle; also known as Harpagornis (Greek for "grapnel bird"); pronounced HARP-ah-GORE-niss


Skies of New Zealand

Historical Epoch:

Pleistocene-Modern (2 million-500 years ago)

Size and Weight:

About six foot wingspan and 30 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; grasping talons

About Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis)

Wherever there were large, flightless prehistoric birds, you can be sure there were also predatory raptors like eagles or vultures on the lookout for an easy lunch. That's the role Haast's Eagle (also known as Harpagornis or the Giant Eagle) played in Pleistocene New Zealand, where it swooped down and carried off giant moas like Dinornis and Emeus - not full-grown adults, but juveniles and newly hatched chicks. As befitting the size of its prey, Haast's Eagle was the biggest eagle that ever lived, but not by all that much - adults only weighed about 30 pounds, compared to 20 or 25 pounds for the largest eagles alive today.

We can't know for sure, but extrapolating from the behavior of modern eagles, Harpagornis may have had a distinctive hunting style - swooping down on its prey at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, seizing the unfortunate animal by the pelvis with one of its talons, and delivering a killing blow to the head with the other talon before (or even while) taking flight. Unfortunately, because it relied so heavily on Giant Moas for its sustenance, Haast's Eagle was doomed when these slow, gentle, flightless birds were hunted to extinction by the first human settlers of New Zealand, going extinct itself shortly afterward.


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