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Moa (Megalapteryx)
New Zealand map.jpg
Type New Zealand ratite
First Sighting 1300s
Last Sighting 1993
Country New Zealand
Habitat Forests and shrublands
Possible Population Fiordland National Park

The moa (Dinorniformes) were giant flightless birds native to New Zealand. They were comprised of 9 species in 6 genera, ranging from the size of turkeys to nearly double the human height. The largest was the south island giant moa, which could grow to a height of about 3.6 meters (about 11ft) and weigh up to 250 kg (about 770lb). They belong to a group of birds called ratites, which also includes ostriches, emus and kiwi. Genetic studies suggest that the closest living relative of the moa are the flighted tinamous of South America, once considered to be a sister taxa to ratites. They were the largest land animals in New Zealand, being found in forests, shrubland and subalpine habitats. The moa's main predator was the Haasts eagle, the biggest eagle to have ever existed. Both became extinct alongside the moa soon after humans arrived 700 years ago.

History and Extinction

It is believed that early ancestors of these birds could fly, and flew to New Zealand around 60 million years ago. Before the arrival of human settlers, the moa were predated mainly by the Haast's eagle, the largest known eagle to have existed, it is likely that the Eyles harrier hunted smaller species of moa. New Zealand had been isolated for 80 million years and had few predators before human arrival. Moa are believed to have became extinct soon after humans landed. Overhunting, habitat destruction and the introduction of mammalian predators by the Maori was the most likely reason for their demise.


A news article about the 1993 Moa sighting.

Picture of a fleeing moa taken by Paddy Freaney.

Modern science tells us the moa went extinct more than 500 years ago, soon after the settlement of New Zealand, however sightings of the moa have been numerous throughout the years, occurring most commonly in the remote parts of New Zealand. It has been speculated that the smallest species of moa could have survived in the remote and dense forests of Fiordland and the west coast until fairly recently, as these areas were virtually undisturbed until European arrival. Most sightings of the moa occurred in the colonial era when surveyors and prospectors started exploring the remote New Zealand wilderness.

In the 1820s George Pauley claimed to have seen a bird 20 foot high by an unnamed lake in the Otago region of southern South Island. Pauley ran away from the bird.

In the 1840s, Australian bird painter John Gould reported seeing what he described as "giant kiwis" on the South Island of New Zealand, that were around a meter tall and had spurred feet. Gould's spurred feet description had matched those of fossilized Moa footprints found on the North Island.

At about 1844, the crew of the whaler Magnolia reported trapping a "big emu" weighing about 227kg. The captain who was a taxidermist was said to have preserved the bird to send it to the "London Museum" however no known specimen was ever sent to the museum.

In 1868, Sir George Grey received a circumstantial account of a recent killing of a small moa which had been captured from a drove of six or seven birds by a party of Maoris at Preservation Inlet in Fiordland.

In 1880, 8 year old Alice Mackenzie claimed to have seen and touched a moa at Martins Bay in Fiordland. She described the bird as "A fairly tall bird with bright blue plumage", she and her brother saw the bird many times.

In about 1928, Jules berg and Arawata Bill were heading to Milford from Preservation Inlet, one night near lake widgeon, Jules was woken by what sounded like deer drinking from a nearby stream, it seemed like a good opportunity to shoot some deer so he took his rifle and torch and set off. When he was ready to shoot he turned on his torch, which revealed 3 objects like giant fowls standing about a meter tall, for a moment bill was stupefied and in that instant the birds fled.

In May 1991, hiker Jim Straton saw an enormous, dark-colored bird cross a hiking trail in front of him along the Waimakariri River. He estimated its height at 11 feet.

In 1993, three hikers claimed to have seen a moa in the Craigieburn Range in Arthurs Pass. One of them, a former SAS soldier and mountaineer Paddy Freaney had managed to chase the bird and take a photograph of what appeared to be a fleeing moa. Later analysis by specialists at the Canterbury university concluded that the picture seemed to show a genuine bird. A year later in the same vicinity, a physician found unusual browsing damage on plants that could only have been made by a moa.

During February and March 1978, a Japanese research team, led by biologist Prof. Shoichi Hollie of Japan’s Gunma University, headed to Fiordland to see if any moas were still living in the area. Using a reconstructed moa cry on tape, created with the help of computerized analyses of the Megalapteryx throat structure using fossil remains, failed to receive any reply. It has been suggested that the people reporting have seen Moas were exaggerating or seeing large individuals of known birds, such as cassowaries or emu. However this does not explain the large number of sightings, with many having consistent descriptions that do not resemble any known bird alive.


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