Image Giant eagle

TLF ID R5508

This is a fibreglass model of the extinct New Zealand giant eagle known as Haast's eagle ('Harpagornis moorei'). It was the largest eagle ever recorded, and had talons as big as tiger's claws, a low, narrow skull and an elongated beak. Males weighed up to 10 kg while females weighed up to 14 kg. Harpagornis was capable of reaching speeds of up to 80 km per hour when diving. Its dark wings and tail feathers had white feathers distributed through them, giving a striped effect, while its body was predominantly brown. Its wingspan measured up to 2.6 m across. (Current scientific classification for the giant eagle - Phylum: Chordata, Class: Aves, Order: Falconiformes, Family: Accipitridae.)

Educational details

Educational value
  • The New Zealand native eagle, 'Harpagornis moorei', which is now extinct but which was the largest eagle ever known, is portrayed by this fibreglass model - the giant eagle was capable of killing a 200-kg 2-m-tall moa with its powerfully muscled legs that cushioned its body from the sudden force of a strike; it had talons capable of stabbing several centimetres into flesh and of puncturing bone; fossilised moa pelvic bones show gashes and punctures from eagle claws.
  • One consequence of Polynesian settlement and hunting was the eventual extinction of the giant eagle - hunting deprived Harpagornis of its food supply; Harpagornis also became a food source for humans, which is evidenced by the eagle's bones, along with tools made from them, being found in middens.
  • Haast's eagle lived on the South Island of New Zealand, occupying large territories of up to several hundred square kilometres, before becoming extinct sometime around 1400 CE (AD) - there were, however, claims of sightings as late as the 19th century.
  • The giant eagle was first described by Julius Haast of the Canterbury Museum from bones found in a swamp near Glenmark, North Canterbury (east coast of the South Island), in 1871.
  • The contribution of Julius Haast, a noted geologist and explorer who, as director of the Canterbury Museum, issued the first scientific description of the bird is highlighted by the model and in the common name of the bird - it is commonly known as the Haast's eagle, although Haast himself named it after George Moore, the owner of the Glenmark Station where Frederick Fuller initially found many of the first bones.
  • Some Mäori believed that the giant eagle was descended from the star Rehua - the Harpagornis was also regarded as the ancestor of ceremonial kites or manu tukutuku, which typically took the form of birds; ethnographer Elsdon Best recorded that it was a legendary bird of this magnitude that was reputed to have carried off and devoured people.
Year level

F; 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • science
  • Science/Science understanding

    Other details

    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
    • Author
    • Name: T Tishler
    • Remarks: sculptor
    • Author
    • Name: N Hyde
    • Remarks: sculptor
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 03 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL:
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    • Image
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    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements