Haast's eagle

Our Haast's eagle (Te Hokioi) was once the most feared predator in the land.

It was the size of a hang-glider. It had talons like tiger’s, and used these claws to catch prey much bigger than itself, like our 200kg Giant Moa.

Maori stories spoke of the Haast's eagle carrying away children, and scientists have recently found that this is true. Imagine that! No wonder it has been called the ‘tiger of the skies’

Our birds didn’t want to be eaten by the Haast's eagle, so they developed special habits and features to protect themselves.

That is why so many of our birds are nocturnal and well camouflaged. It’s because they didn’t become an easy lunch for the Haast's eagle.

The Haast's eagle would sit in a tree, swoop on its prey at 80kms an hour, and clutch its pelvis or crush its skull with its large claws.

Snuffed Out

Unfortunately - like many of our birds - it became extinct.  No doubt this is  because its main food source – moa, NZ goose, NZ swan and large rails – were being hunted to extinction by humans.

People think it probably went extinct in the 1400s, however there were sightings of a large eagle in the 1900s.

Facts, facts, facts

  • It was the world’s largest eagle.
  • It is the only bird to be a top predator.
  • Females weighed between 10 – 15 kg, and males
  • It had quite stumpy wings (2.6 – 3 metres) so tit could fly through shrub and bush.
  • It lived only in the South Island,
  • The population was small, probably only about 1000 breeding pairs 
  • It was depicted in maori rock paintings.
  • Haast's eagle (Harpagornis moorei) was discovered in swamp deposits by Sir Julius von Haast in the 1870s.
  • If you want to see a real-life model of Haast's eagle go to our national museum – Te Papa in Wellington.