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Haast's eagles were to NZ as Dingos are to Australia
September 16, 2009 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Legends from New Zealand held that there was a large predator bird, known as pouakai, that was big enough to carry human beings off to its nest or den. Some people associated stories of Pouakai with the giant flightless Moa, extinct in 1773. Others thought it might be another extinct giant bird on the South Island, Haast's Eagle (Harpagornis moorei). The eagle, locally known as Te Hokioi, has been extinct for 500 years, overlapping with the early settlers by some 200 years. There was some speculation that the giant eagle was a scavenger due to partially protected nasal openings, which are benefit to protect nasal cavities when digging into carcasses, analogous to features found on accipitrid vultures. Recent studies have provide there is proof that the Haast's Eagle was a fearsome predator, with talons like tigers and the ability to dive on prey at 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph).

Weighing twice as much as the Steller's Sea Eagle, the heaviest modern eagle at 9 kilograms (20 lb), the Haast's Eagle was the only large predator on the South Island. It's primary prey was most likely the Moa, the largest of reached about 3.7 m (12 ft) in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 230 kg (510 lb). Because it is unlikely that even two Haast's Eagles could eat a complete Moa before it went bad, these kills were bounties for smaller predatory birds, from whom they may have evolved. The absence of mammalian competitors facilitated the evolution of much larger eagles and owls on Cuba and may have likewise precipitated the rapid morphological shift, with an increase in body size by at least an order of magnitude in less than 2 million years.

Historic myth, fact, and fiction
Another Waitaha myth tells of a contest between the hawk and hokioi. The hawk said it could reach the heavens; the hokioi said it could reach the heavens; there was contention between them. The hokioi said to the hawk, “what shall be your sign?” The hawk replied, “kei” (the peculiar cry of the hawk). Then the hawk asked, “what is to be your sign?” The hokioi replied, “hokioi–hokioi–hu–u.” These were there words. They then flew and approached the heavens. The winds and the clouds came. The hawk called out “kei” and descended, it could go no further on account of the winds and the clouds, but the hokioi disappeared into the heavens.

Though the Pouakai could attack a person, there is information from people eating the eagles, detailing that a particular wood was needed to sufficiently cook their haunches.

One of the mysteries and curiosities of New Zealand is a UFO explosion in Tapanui, New Zealand, 1178, which the author believes lead to telekinetic pollution of New Zealand that caused in past, and still causes now, that various organisms which live in New Zealand to sporadically mutate to gigantic sizes.

Based on a blurry photograph and some footprints found in mud, some cryptozoologists are claiming the Moa lives on.
posted by filthy light thief (22 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
i expect all of this to be on the next (sniff - final) season of Lost.

a UFO explosion caused the all that weird stuff to happen and giant Moa will swoop down to eat the bunnies and the polar bear. the UFO explosion will also have caused them to be flightful instead of flightless.

the idea of giant man-eating birds is pretty wild, tho.
posted by sio42 at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2009


OK, let's not "Jurassic Park" these, huh?
posted by Drasher at 1:33 PM on September 16, 2009


Wow, that UFO link is Timecube gold. Interesting post.
posted by misha at 1:43 PM on September 16, 2009


Great post, Mr. Thief.
posted by maxwelton at 1:58 PM on September 16, 2009


OK, let's not "Jurassic Park" these, huh?

Oh, I bet some hack over at SciFi SyFy is already pooping out a script.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:59 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


That is the bird. Can I take your bird back as my prisoner?
posted by mattdidthat at 2:03 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, not timecube-y enough. I'd like some evidence that rather than becoming extinct, the Moa simply got in their spaceships and flew back to MoaWorld.

Great post BTW.
posted by panboi at 2:13 PM on September 16, 2009


Uh, no. This was clearly the only raptor capable of picking up the toddler in The Beastmaster, saving it from the flaming sacrificial doom of Ar. Arr? Arrr? The way Rip Torn pronounced the name of the deity, it should have at least three Rs in the spelling.
posted by adipocere at 2:17 PM on September 16, 2009


this must be why, to this very day, new zealand remains uninhabited.
posted by kitchenrat at 3:01 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think about this every time I go past Hatupatu's rock. That taniwha was another eagle, I'm convinced.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:06 PM on September 16, 2009


Also, I think it's worth noting that in other Polynesian languages, "moa" means "chicken", which makes the NZ usage a hilarious joke on the part of the incoming Maori.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:15 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Giant flying birds. The embodiment of a dozen myths, rocs, griffins, Prometheus chained to a mountain, Lord of the Rings, Rescuers Down Under... but this world had them for a while. They must have been terrifying in action but this completely tickles my sense of wonder and almost makes me laugh wondering what other incredible things I'd likely doubt might be true.
posted by weston at 3:19 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think it's worth noting that in other Polynesian languages, "moa" means "chicken",

Ha! I'd forgotten that, but it's true.

It reminds me of a little pun I used to think about with the term "samoa." If I recall correctly, fale sa was a term for a chapel, fale being the word for house or building and sa being a modifier indicating a kind of holiness or higher state. So: Sa moa == holy chicken, right?

At least, to a crazy palagi...
posted by weston at 3:26 PM on September 16, 2009


not a lot here... I would have like to have seen this post expanded out a little more.
posted by joelf at 3:29 PM on September 16, 2009


I would have like to have seen this post expanded out a little more.

I am the verbose poster who posts verbosely! Boom, baby, BOOM!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:48 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


giant flightless Moa

Big Bird
posted by trev at 4:14 PM on September 16, 2009


I saw a giant bird over Watkinsville, GA, back in the mid-80s. I was 12-14 and looking up as I drank the water mom had brought out to all of us playing football in my yard--no one else saw it. I've often told the story of the pterodactyl-like bird with a 15-25 foot wingspan that I once saw, but understandably no one ever believed me. I remember it very clearly though--even how it cast a huge shadow on the roof of the house across the street as it flew over.

Anyway, a few years ago I caught the tail end of a Discovery channel special about a giant bird that, over the years, had been spotted in Mexico, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, etc....it had picked up a farmer in Mexico, some kid in the US...they plotted the sightings along a time-line and Athens/Watkinsville was right there in the trail of their proposed migratory (wc?) pattern between the years 1984 and 1986. I felt validated.

Anyone remember seeing a Discovery Channel special on a giant bird that picked up one or two people (before dropping them--I don't think it actually ever killed anyone)?
posted by whatgorilla at 4:18 PM on September 16, 2009


whatgorilla - I think you're talking about the Discovery Channel's special in 1997 called "Into the Unknown," referenced on these two pages on thunderbirds. Wikipedia has a decent page on mysterious bird sightings, with a reference to mysterious sightings in San Antonio, TX.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:49 PM on September 16, 2009


whatgorilla: previously :)
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:00 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


weston: It reminds me of a little pun I used to think about with the term "samoa." If I recall correctly, fale sa was a term for a chapel, fale being the word for house or building and sa being a modifier indicating a kind of holiness or higher state. So: Sa moa == holy chicken, right?

Well, except that adjective follows noun in Polynesian languages, so "sa moa" would be more like something holy which also has the quality of a chicken, or the sort of holiness that only a chicken could have, or a holiness of a chickeny type.

Actually, the precise etymology of Samoa has been questioned quite a bit and there's really no good explanation or understanding of it. Ben Finney wrote a paper about the subject and concluded that it's really a contraction and bastardization of "saa moana" terms, and that the name basically means "people of the ocean".

That's probably better than "chickeny sacredness."
posted by barnacles at 11:56 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those of us for whom the thought of giant birds of prey snatching us up and carrying us off to their lairs is not scary enough, the BBC science series "End of Eden" (youtube links coming) featured a re-enaction of a Haast Eagle attack on unsuspecting early Maoris. They also have a clip about the meeting of Maori and Moa, which is portrayed as a kind of giant, hulking Bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on legs.
posted by zaelic at 4:07 AM on September 17, 2009


MetaFilter: something holy which also has the quality of a chicken
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:51 AM on September 17, 2009


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