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September 15, 2009

Te Hokioi

Researchers at Canterbury Museum in Christchurch and the University of New South Wales in Australia have identified the culprit behind Maori legends of a giant man-eating bird. Te Hokioki is now thought to have been Haast's eagle, extinct for 500 years.

With a wingspan of up to three metres and weighing 18kg, the female was twice as big as the largest living eagle, the Steller's sea eagle. And the bird's talons were as big as a tiger's claws. "It was certainly capable of swooping down and taking a child," said Paul Scofield, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Canterbury Museum. "They had the ability to not only strike with their talons but to close the talons and put them through quite solid objects such as a pelvis. It was designed as a killing machine."

Its main prey would have been moa, flightless birds which grew to as much as 250kg and 2.5 metres tall. "In some fossil sites, moa bones have been found with signs of eagle predation," Dr Scofield said.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 15, 2009 08:03 AM