New Zealand’s moa (family Dinornithidae) isn’t the largest bird that’s ever existed (that honor goes to Madagascar’s elephant birds), but to my mind, it is the most exotic bird imaginable. Paired with its massive predator, Haast’s Eagle, the moa symbolizes the amazing turns that evolution takes when populations of a species are isolated. And New Zealand’s flora and fauna before the first people arrived about 1300 A.D. (New Zealand was the last major land mass settled by humans) are worth a note or two as well.
1) You will be wanting the stats: the two largest of the moa’s 11 species, Dinornis Robustus and Dinornis NovaeZelandiae, topped out at 12 ft and weighed about 510 lb. The moa lived on both the North and South Islands, and got to New Zealand by walking from South America and Africa across Antarctica (New Zealand split away from Antartica 70 million years ago). They ate a wide range of plant materials and scrapped out shallow nests in the ground, where they laid a single egg that could be up to 9″ tall and 7″ wide. Apparently, in some of the species, males incubated the eggs; moa species were dimorphic, with the females being as much as 150% taller and 280% heavier than the males.
Examination of the bird’s trachea has led scientists to believe that some moa species may have had a deep, resonant call, and their feathers ranged in color from reddish brown to white to purple.
Haast’s Eagle was the moa’s only known predator.
2) The Maori arrived in New Zealand towards the end of the 13th century A.D. It took about 100 years of hunting, habitat destruction, and predation by rats to drive the moa into extinction. It is possible, though, that isolated populations survived, and sightings of the bird continued into the 19th century.
The moa genome has been sequenced.
3) New Zealand has some of the most distinctive flora and fauna found on the planet–80% of its vascular plants are endemic, as are 70% of its native terrestrial and freshwater birds. Notable species include the Kuari tree, the wetas, and the tuataras. The country’s Department of Conservation is implementing an ambitious program to protect and restore native species.
Photo: comparison, left to right, of a kiwi, and ostrich, and a moa. WikiCmns. Public Domain.