Introducing the Sky Bastard who terrified the shit out of my Maori ancestors in New Zealand…
Common Name: Haast’s Eagle
Scientific Name: Harpagornis moorei (Discovered and named by Julius von Haast in the 1870s)
Traditional Name: Te Pouakai or Te Hokioi (Meaning the ‘Old Glutton’ in Maori)
My Name for him: Sky Bastard (Why? Because he was a bastard)
Preservation Status: Extinct circa 1600 A.D.
He was originally named Te Pouakai or Te Hokioi by the Maori tribes of New Zealand. When Cook and his homies originally landed in New Zealand they wrote off the Maori legend of Te Pouakai as just a fanciful story. Fast forward to the 1870’s and some fellow named Haast found the bones of a gigantic man and moa-eating eagle. So it turns out that nobody was making anything up.
To give you a sense of scale, here are some terrifying snaps of the world’s biggest extant eagle, the Golden Eagle.
The Haast’s Eagle A.K.A Sky Bastard was 40% bigger than this…
Sky Bastard was the biggest and most terrifying bird of prey to ever have graced the earth. He had a wing span of 2 to 3 metres. Although he weighed only 13 kilos, he was a veritable killing machine with 9 cm claws (the same as a tiger’s). He could take down a moa, a gigantic 250 kilo flightless bird. He would swoop down at 80 kilometres an hour and disembowel and crunch the bones of a moa or a person within a couple of seconds.
These terrible blood-thirsty creatures were the last true raptors on earth. According to the Maori, they were descendants of the star Rehua. Te Pouakai would bide his time and pick off lone women, children or elderly people if they strayed too far from the tribe. His claws were powerful enough to snap skulls and eat a human in a few bites. He was regularly depicted by my ancestors in rock drawings.
Haast’s Eagle a.k.a Te Pouakai a.k.a Sky Bastard is estimated to have diverged from a smaller species of eagle about 1.8 million to 700,000 years ago. This is fairly recent in terms of evolutionary adaptation. It suggests that Te Pouakai increased his weight 10-15 times over this period. This is would mean he had the greatest and quickest evolutionary increase in weight of any known vertebrate! Basically everyday was all-you-can-eat buffet for Sky Bastard. He had a free for all with all of those fat, bleeting flightless birds in Aotearoa. He was gorging himself over eons in the absence of any other large predator (including humans) in New Zealand.
From the Cenzoic period up until the Polynesians landed in New Zealand, life was pretty peachy. New Zealand was home to many types of flightless birds that occupied a broad range of niches and habitats. The most famous of these were the 9 species of moa, which ranged in size from 20 to over 250kg. These made up Te Pouakai’s staple diet.
Although it turns out that brains did win out eventually over brawn. The Maori hunted Te Pouakai’s main food source, the moa to extinction in around 1600 AD. So therefore the Sky Bastard/Te Pouakai went the same way. We know this because of the gigantic bones that have been found in middens and fashioned into ancient tools.
I have drawn copious amounts of inspiration for this post from the always controversial and funny Badass of the Week article about the Haast’s Eagle.
In a way I am glad Sky Bastard won’t be hunting me when I go hiking in New Zealand. Although it still is sad that moas and sky bastards don’t exist anymore, don’t you think?