Te Hokioi: Maori Man-Eating Bird Legend Is True
A legendary bird that ate humans is more than a Maori legend. Te Hokioi, a bird with talons as big as tigers' paws, existed in the form of Haast's eagle, which became extinct around 500 years ago when humans killed its main prey, the moa.
Sir Julius von Haast discovered the remains of a large bird in the swamps of New Zealand in the 1870s. Because its bill was much like the one of a vulture, the bird was believed to be a scavenger, not a predator - but modern technology has now showed that Haast's eagle was capable of killing large prey, and was likely Te Hokioi.
Te Hokioi had a wingspan of nearly ten feet (3 meters) and weighed 40lbs (18kg), twice the size of the largest living eagle, Steller's sea eagle. It fed mainly on moa, birds which were incapable of flying, and weighed as much as 550lbs (250kg). Humans hunted the moa to extinction after their arrival in New Zealand around 1,000 years ago, killing Te Hokioi at the same time.
New Zealand has no native land mammals because it became isolated from other continents in the Cretaceous, more than 65 million years ago. As a result, birds filled niches usually populated by large mammals such as deer and cattle. "Haast's eagle wasn't just the equivalent of a giant predatory bird," said Dr Scofield. "It was the equivalent of a lion."