Research Highlights: Extinct Haast’s eagle ate like a vulture

haast's eagle
By John Megahan – Ancient DNA Tells Story of Giant Eagle Evolution. PLoS Biol 3(1): e20. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030020.g001, CC BY 2.5,

Extinct Haast’s eagle ate like a vulture

  • Haast’s eagle is the largest known eagle to have existed on Earth and once lived in New Zealand.
  • The estimated weight of Haast’s eagle is about 15 kilogram.[1]
  • Haast’s eagle was first considered as predator and then as scavenger.
  • Recently, researchers speculated that Haast’s eagle is a hunter.
  • Some researchers proposed that Haast’s eagle are similar to carrion feeder; however, this speculation has not been rigorously examined.
  • Carrion feeders are animals that feed on dead animals.
  • Researchers analyzed the strength and shape of the eagle’s cranium, beak, and talons to five existing scavengers and predators.
  • The braincase shape of the Haast’s eagle is similar to the vultures; however, its beak is similar to the eagles.
  • Mechanically, the performance of Haast’s eagle is similar to existing eagles under biting loads; however, it is more similar to Andean condor under extrinsic load just like capturing and killing a prey.
  • The talons or the claws are similar to the eagles and able to handle extreme high loads.
  • The results reinforces the proposition that Haast’s eagle were more likely to kill larger prey and feeds like a vulture on large dead animals.
  • Separating the relationship between the braincase and the beak may be associated to rapid evolution.


van Heteren A. H., Wroe S., Tsang L. R., Mitchell D. R., Ross P., Ledogar J. A., Attard M. R. G., Sustaita D., Clausen P., Scofield R. P. and Sansalone G. 2021New Zealand’s extinct giant raptor (Hieraaetus moorei) killed like an eagle, ate like a condorProc. R. Soc. B.2882021191320211913.

[1] Knapp, Michael; Thomas, Jessica E.; Haile, James; Prost, Stefan; Ho, Simon Y.W.; Dussex, Nicolas; Cameron-Christie, Sophia; Kardailsky, Olga; Barnett, Ross; Bunce, Michael; Gilbert, M. Thomas P. (May 2019). “Mitogenomic evidence of close relationships between New Zealand’s extinct giant raptors and small-sized Australian sister-taxa”. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 134: 122–128. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2019.01.026. PMID 30753886. S2CID 73420145


Related Links

Research Summary: Ancient DNA Provides New Insights into the Evolutionary History of New Zealand’s Extinct Giant Eagle

Abstract Prior to human settlement 700 years ago New Zealand had no terrestrial mammals—apart from three species of bats—instead, approximately 250 avian species dominated the ecosystem. At the top of the food chain was the extinct Haast’s eagle, Harpagornis moorei. H. moorei (10–15 kg; 2–3 m wingspan) was 30%–40% heavier than the largest extant eagle … Continue reading

Mitogenomic evidence of close relationships between New Zealand’s extinct giant raptors and small-sized Australian sister-taxa. Knapp M, Thomas JE, Haile J, Prost S, Ho SYW, Dussex N, Cameron-Christie S, Kardailsky O, Barnett R, Bunce M, Gilbert MTP, Scofield RP.

Ancient DNA provides new insights into the evolutionary history of New Zealand’s extinct giant eagle. Bunce M, Szulkin M, Lerner HR, Barnes I, Shapiro B, Cooper A, Holdaway RN.

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