Pouaka: New Zealand’s Man-Eating Bird

Posted by: Loren Coleman on September 16th, 2009

The giant Haasts eagle is shown attacking New Zealand moas.

In 2007, when Tony Lucas shared his list of “Lesser Known Cryptids of New Zealand,” one he mentioned was the Pouakai.

Tony wrote on Cryptomundo:

The Maori (or Ma¯ori) folklore tells of the Pouakai, a large bird that often attacked warriors and was quite capable of carrying off children. Could this have been the now extinct Haasts eagle, Harpagornis moorei (shown above), said to be one of the world’s largest living eagle? Female Haast’s eagles weighed 10 to 15 kg (22 to 33 lb), and males weighed 9 to 10 kg (20 to 22 lb). They had a wingspan of roughly 2.6 to 3 m (8 to 10 ft) at most, which was short for a bird of the eagle’s weight (the largest Golden Eagles and Steller’s Sea Eagles may have wings of almost the same width), but aided them when hunting in the dense forests of New Zealand.

I noted that Harpagornis had been shown to be synonymous with Hieraaetus, according to Darren Naish.

Now comes the following story, which has been making the rounds all week, from Auckland, New Zealand: “Haast eagle was ‘ultimate killing machine’” ~

It might not have killer crocs but New Zealand was once home to an even more fearsome creature that could rip apart humans with its claws.

New research has confirmed that a giant man-eating bird long spoken of in legends actually existed.

And the Haast eagle was even bigger and more deadly than first thought, fulfilling the same role as the killer lions of Africa.

Each creature had a wingspan of three metres and weighed almost 20kg, making more than twice the size of the largest eagle that survives today.

“It was certainly capable of swooping down and taking a child,” Paul Scofield, of Canterbury University in New Zealand, said.

Its talons were as big as a tiger’s claws, making it the ultimate “killing machine”, he said.

“They had the ability to not only strike with their talons but to close the talons and put them through quite solid objects such as a pelvis.”

Until now, the eagle has been nothing more than a legendary bird called a Te Hokioi by Maori.

The first known account of this mystical bird was given to 19th Century New Zealand governor Sir George Grey, who described it as a huge black-and-white predator with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips.

Pictures of the giant creature could be found all through early Maori rock drawings but they were presumed imaginary.

Remains of the Haast eagle had been collected in the 1870s but early examinations found it was a scavenger like a vulture.

However, new tests of the skeletons using modern technology, including CAT scans, have revealed the eagle and legendary Te Hokioi are one and the same.

The research, published in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, concluded the bird is the Kiwi equivalent of the great African lion.

It survived on a diet of moa, another giant but flightless bird and became extinct just 500 years ago, after humans killed off its food source.


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Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

7 Responses to “Pouaka: New Zealand’s Man-Eating Bird”

  1. Uriah responds:

    “19th Century New Zealand governor Sir George Grey,… described it as a huge black-and-white predator with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips.”

    That is very reminiscent of how many have described the Thunderbird, no?

  2. Sordes responds:

    Nice to see that the actual weights are shown here, at many other news only the exagerated weight of 20 kg and the 3 m wingspan figure were published. They also wrote that Harpagornis was only able to kill a child. Actually, given the fact that we know from punctured hip-bones of moas than even the largest species like Dinornis were killed, and that even living eagles like the golden eagles are known to kill deer-sized animals, the huge Harpagornis with its enormous claws would have had surely no problem to kill an adult human. Some weeks ago I had the opportunity to see South American harpys, Steller’s sea eagles and Eurasian black vultures at one of the two zoos at Berlin. All of this species reach about the size of a male Haast-eagle and even exceed it in wing span. But to imagine that female Haast eagles were even bigger than those huge birds of prey and giant vultures, is really amazing.

  3. Andrew D. Gable responds:

    The story of the killing of Pouaka or Poukai is interesting. A man used a friend of his as bait to lure the bird out of its cave, whereupon he killed it with his war-club. It’s interesting in that the slaying of the bird via ‘sacrifice’, even a false one, resembles closely the story of the killing of the Piasa, or at least one version of the story. I don’t know about the cryptozoological context of the Piasa, if any, but that’s neither here nor there…

  4. Fhqwhgads responds:

    I thought the Anzu-bird had died out millenia ago.

  5. The_Master responds:

    I heard from somewhere (tohugh I don’t remember where exactly) that the moa actually lived until 200 years ago…now, about this Eagle, I hope it is true, though it would be scary to encounter one. Also, it would be a danger for many Endangered Species, including the kakapo

  6. skunkmonkey2002 responds:

    The size of this bird is staggering, but size-wise there is a living bird you can look at for comparisons. You may even find them at your local zoo: the Andean Condor.

    They are the largest flighted bird alive, with wingspans from 9-11 feet (a foot or so wider than the Haast’s Eagle) and larger individuals going up to 11 to 15 kg. By comparison, the common turkey vulture is only about 2.5 kgs.

    We have some at the local zoo here in Knoxville, TN and they are a sight to behold. It’s hard to imagine an Eagle of this size actively hunting for prey.

  7. Sordes responds:

    Condors are very large, but they are not the largest flying birds. Albatrosses exceed them in absolut wingspan and swans can reach higher weights.
    But condors are not really the best comparisons to the Haast eagle. Condors have very weak feet and only small talons. Haast eagles had the strongest feet known among all birds of prey, and they talons were of monstrous size.

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