Haast's Eagle‭ ‬/‭ ‬Pouakai
(Harpagornis moorei,‭ ‬possibly Aquila moorei‭)

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Name: Harpagornis ‭(‬Grappling hook bird‭).
Phonetic: Har-pag-or-niss.
Named By: Julius von Haast‭ ‬-‭ ‬1872.
Classification: Chordata,‭ ‬Aves,‭ ‬Accipitriformes,‭ ‬Accipitridae.
Species: H.‭ ‬moorei‭ (‬type‭)‬.
Diet: Carnivore.
Size: Males about‭ ‬9-12‭ ‬kg in weight,‭ ‬females about‭ ‬10-15‭ ‬kg in weight.‭ ‬Average wingspan of females about‭ ‬2.6‭ ‬meters wide,‭ ‬but some remains suggest a‭ ‬3‭ ‬meter wingspan is possible.
Known locations: New Zealand,‭ ‬South Island‭ ‬-‭ ‬including the Hillgrove Formation,‭ ‬and the southern portion of North Island.
Time period: Calabrian of the Pleistocene to the Holocene.‭ ‬Believed to have gone extinct by around the year‭ ‬1400AD.
Fossil representation: Remains of multiple individuals,‭ ‬though often only partial remains.‭ ‬At least three complete skeletons are known.

       In the simplest terms,‭ ‬the Haast's Eagle is in essence,‭ ‬a giant eagle,‭ ‬and one that focused upon hunting only the largest prey available to prehistoric New Zealand:‭ ‬the large flightless moa birds.‭ ‬Isolated remains and estimates of them suggest that the largest Haast’s Eagles could attain a wingspan of up to three meters long,‭ ‬though a two and a half meter wingspan is more easily established from the majority of known remains.‭ ‬Even with the lower estimate however,‭ ‬the Haast’s Eagle still had a wingspan roughly equivalent to today’s largest eagles such as the Steller Sea Eagle‭ (‬Haliaeetus pelagicus‭)‬,‭ ‬Wedge-tailed Eagle‭ (‬Aquila audax‭) ‬and the Golden Eagle‭ (‬Aquila chrysaetos‭)‬.‭ ‬Where the Haast's Eagle really wins in size though is by weight.‭ ‬Most modern eagles,‭ ‬including the females which are usually larger than the males,‭ ‬never exceed nine kilograms in weight when living in the wild‭ (‬captive kept eagles are not included in case these are overfed‭)‬.‭ ‬Estimates of male Haast's eagles however range from nine kilograms all the way up to twelve kilograms,‭ ‬while females could weigh as much as fourteen to even fifteen kilograms.‭ ‬This means that the Haast's eagle is probably one of if not the heaviest eagle that we know about to ever take to the air.‭ ‬Because of the extra weight,‭ ‬it is believed that a‭ ‬Haast's eagle would launch itself into the air by jumping up from the ground while flapping.

       The Haast's Eagle was not a bird that was adapted for long range soaring over great open distances,‭ ‬the relative shortness of the wingspan is a clear indication that the Haast's Eagle was adapted‭ ‬for flight amongst trees and other locations where there was not much room to open up the wings.‭ ‬By proportion the tail has become enlarged to cover a larger surface area,‭ ‬something that would help to create lift in the absence of larger wings.‭ ‬A large tail would also allow for more stable and more manoeuvrable low speed flight,‭ ‬and would have enabled Haast's Eagles to have had an exceptional ability for tight turns while flying amongst trees.
       The Haast's Eagle is also‭ ‬credited as having larger jaws than most modern eagles,‭ ‬as well as possessing several long talons on the feet.‭ ‬The talons of the Haast's Eagle are noted as being similar in form to those of the Harpy Eagle‭ (‬Harpia harpyja‭)‬.‭ ‬These talons were between forty-nine to sixty-one and a half millimetres long for the‭ ‬front toes while the talon of the hallux‭ (‬the rear toe that was opposable to the others‭) ‬was up to one hundred and ten millimetres long.‭ ‬It were these talons that would have been the primary killing weapons of an individual eagle.
       The Haast's Eagle was adapted to hunt and kill large prey upon a one on one basis,‭ ‬but the only suitably large prey in New Zealand for such a large predator were the moa.‭ ‬Moa were large flightless birds which are known by several genera,‭ ‬the largest of which of the Dinornis genus‭ (‬D.‭ ‬robustus and D.‭ ‬novaezelandiae‭) ‬could grow up to around three and a half meters tall.‭ ‬These birds inhabited the forests that covered New Zealand during the Pleistocene and Holocene,‭ ‬and a possible hunting scenario plays out as so‭;
       A lone Haast's Eagle spots a moa moving though perhaps a less dense growth of trees and then moves itself into position for‭ ‬a strike.‭ ‬From an elevated position the Haast's Eagle begins a downward swoop toward the moa,‭ ‬picking up speed all the while it is making its approach.‭ ‬The moa may be too busy feeding or dinking to notice the approach of the eagle which may also be obscured slightly by the undergrowth.‭ ‬Before the moa can realise the danger the Haast's Eagle sinks its talons into the spine of the moa,‭ ‬which thanks to a combination of the sharp edges driven by the momentum of the heavy eagle travelling at high speed during the point of impact,‭ ‬easily slice and sever the spinal cord bringing instant paralysis.‭ ‬The easiest location for a Haast's Eagle to strike would be the pelvis or the backbone supporting the rib cage since these areas would not be as likely to move as the head and neck.‭ ‬A strike to the spine in these areas would also bring paralysis to the legs,‭ ‬causing the moa to collapse under its own weight.‭ ‬The eagle may have then used a series of strikes from its talons and beak to more quickly subdue the moa,‭ ‬or simply‭ ‬wait for the moa to weaken and die before feeding.‭ ‬The lack of large predators and scavengers on New Zealand meant that a single moa carcass could sustain an eagle for at least several days.‭ ‬The only real threat to a Haast's Eagle at this time would be if another came along and challenged it for territory.
       The precise classification of‭ ‬the‭ ‬Haast’s Eagle seems to be up in the air at the time of writing.‭ ‬The Harpagornis genus has been well established for well over a century,‭ ‬and the popularity of this eagle has meant that most people know it as and continue to call it Harpagornis.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬a‭ ‬2005‭ ‬DNA study of Haast’s Eagle remains by Lerner and Mindell found that it was closely related to the Little Eagle and the Booted Eagle.‭ ‬Both of these eagles have now been re-classified under the Aquila genus,‭ ‬and now there has been quite a bit of speculation over whether Haast's Eagle should be added to the Aquila genus as a distinct species,‭ ‬or if it should remain in its own genus,‭ ‬Harpagornis.‭
       As it stands today,‭ ‬some people have already chosen to move Haast's Eagle over to Aquila,‭ ‬retaining the original species name to create A.‭ ‬moorei as opposed to H.‭ ‬moorei.‭ ‬Others however continue to credit Harpagornis as valid.‭ ‬At the time of writing no formal decision has been made to move Harpagornis to Aquila,‭ ‬but if this does happen then you can expect the genus naming confusion to continue for quite some time afterwards.‭ ‬This is what happened to a giant monitor lizard from Australia called Megalania.‭ ‬Modern analysis of the remains of this great monitor lizard have seen it become a species of the genus Varanus which includes modern monitor lizards,‭ ‬and although many scientific bodies now treat Megalania as Varanus priscus,‭ ‬the old designation of Megalania is still very common,‭ ‬especially within the realms of popular science and media.
       As both apex and specialised predators,‭ ‬the future of Haast's Eagles was certain for as long as there were moa to hunt.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬by‭ ‬1250-1300AD New Zealand had been settled by the first Māori people,‭ ‬and this signalled the end for much of the native and‭ ‬specialised fauna of New Zealand.‭ ‬The first settlers needed to make the land suitable for long term habitation which meant that vast areas of forests began to be cleared,‭ ‬destroying the habitat of many animals.‭ ‬What had a larger impact upon the numbers of Haast's Eagles however was the active hunting of the moa birds by people.‭ ‬This caused a significant drop in the numbers of moa which meant that quite suddenly there was not enough food to support the population of Haast's Eagles which then began to decline.‭ ‬This continued all the time as the moa were hunted to extinction,‭ ‬and with the Haast's Eagles unable to switch to a different food source,‭ ‬they too followed the moa into extinction.
       Haast's Eagles are usually listed as going extinct at around‭ ‬1400AD because this was about the time that the moa birds died out.‭ ‬It’s not inconceivable that Haast's Eagles might have survived for a little past this,‭ ‬especially if they had access to a small isolated population of moa that were still untouched.‭ ‬A claim was made by the explorer Charles Edward Douglas however that while he was travelling through the Landsborough River Valley in the‭ ‬1870s,‭ ‬he shot and ate two raptors of exceptionally large size.‭ ‬Douglas noted that the birds had wingspans equivalent to around three meters and were probably the Pouakai of Maori legend.‭
       However there is some debate about whether Douglas correctly identified these birds.‭ ‬The Maori people at the time insisted that the Pouakai was a bird not seen in living memory,‭ ‬and so far known fossil specimens of Haast’s Eagles confirm that these birds died out long before Douglas made his expedition.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬modern interpretation of Douglas’s tale is that he may have actually shot two Eyles‭' ‬Harriers,‭ ‬a now extinct kind of harrier that was also noted for being unusually large,‭ ‬though not to the extent of the Haast’s Eagle.‭ ‬The reasoning for this is that although Eyles‭' ‬Harriers succumbed to the same changing conditions as what finished Haast’s Eagles,‭ ‬their more generalist diet means that they may have managed to survive for longer that the‭ ‬more‭ ‬specialist Haast’s Eagles.

Further reading
-‭ ‬Notes on the weight,‭ ‬flying ability,‭ ‬habitat,‭ ‬and prey of Haast's Eagle‭ (‬Harpagornis moorei‭) ‬-‭ ‬D.‭ ‬H.‭ ‬Brathwaite‭ ‬-‭ ‬1992.
-‭ ‬Late-Pleistocene avifaunas from Cape Wanbrow,‭ ‬Otago,‭ ‬South Island,‭ ‬New Zealand‭ ‬-‭ ‬T.‭ ‬H.‭ ‬Worthy‭ & ‬J.‭ ‬A.‭ ‬Grant-Mackie‭ ‬-‭ ‬2003.
-‭ ‬Ancient DNA Provides New Insights into the Evolutionary History of New Zealand's Extinct Giant Eagle‭ ‬-‭ ‬Michael Bunce,‭ ‬Marta Szulkin,‭ ‬Heather R.‭ ‬L.‭ ‬Lerner,‭ ‬Ian Barnes,‭ ‬Beth Shapiro,‭ ‬Alan Cooper‭ & ‬Richard N.‭ ‬Holdaway‭ ‬-‭ ‬2005.



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