Extinct New Zealand bird hunted like an eagle and ate like a vulture

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The Haast’s eagle had a beak and talons suited for capturing unrecorded prey, but its skull was adapted for ripping retired organs

Life 1 December 2021

By Christa Lesté-Lasserre

Full size successful  nonfiction  - Reconstruction of the Haast?s eagle (Artist: Katrina Kenny)

An artist’s content of Haast’s eagle

Katrina Kenny

For much than a century, scientists person wondered whether a immense carnivorous vertebrate that went extinct astir 600 years agone was much of a predatory eagle oregon a gut-raiding vulture. Now we yet person the answer: it was both.

The Haast’s eagle, which lived successful New Zealand, utilized its monolithic talons to hunt and seizure prey similar an eagle. But alternatively of gobbling it down full similar modern-day raptors, it ripped the animal’s belly isolated and tore retired its intestines – the “nicest bits,” says Anneke van Heteren astatine the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology successful Munich, Germany.

“It’s inactive actively hunting due to the fact that it’s pulling down specified immense prey, but past the feeding is overmuch much of a pulling, similar the mode a vulture would connected an elephant carcass, alternatively than the mode an eagle would gulp down its prey successful 2 oregon 3 bites,” van Heteren says.

The Haast’s eagle (Hieraaetus moorei) weighed up to 15 kilograms, astir a 3rd heavier than the largest surviving eagle, the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja).

Scientists person agelong suspected that the bird’s preferred prey was different bird, the land-roaming and present extinct moa, which could measurement up to 200 kg.

To reply the question of whether the Haast’s eagle fed much similar a vulture oregon a existent eagle erstwhile and for all, van Heteren and her colleagues created integer 3D models of its caput and talons. They past compared those to the morphology of 5 different taxon of modern eagles and vultures.

With the assistance of computerised modelling, the scientists determined that, contrary to erstwhile accounts, the beak is really acold much akin to eagles than to carrion feeders. Haast’s eagles could person utilized their almighty wound to termination ample prey specified arsenic moas.

But that doesn’t mean it behaved wholly similar an eagle, either, van Heteren says. Its neurocranium – the backmost precocious portion of the skull – is reminiscent of vultures. The modelling suggests it could carnivore strains akin to those of the Andean condor (Vultur gryphys), a South American vulture that gulps down interior organs.

The ample talons showed singular similarities to modern eagles, meaning they were good suited for capturing unrecorded prey, adjacent animals acold larger and heavier than themselves.

“I thought we were going to get a clear-cut answer, and that that we would find either the 1 oregon the other,” van Heteren says. “But instead, we recovered a puzzle. The information that [this bird] was hunting similar an eagle and past eating similar a scavenger amazed me.”

After consuming the interior organs – which are affluent with nutrients – and possibly the muscles, the raptors astir apt abandoned little appealing tissues specified arsenic the skin, bones, and tendons, she says.

A deficiency of contention meant they could spend to beryllium picky. “When you’re the king of the jungle, basically, you tin conscionable devour the bully bits and past determination connected and drawback different one,” says van Heteren.

The Haast’s eagle went extinct successful astir 1400, erstwhile radical arrived connected the islands and hunted the moa to extinction.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1913

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