Moa Facts!

Restoration of South Island Giant Moa, Dinornis robustus (forground) and Pachyornis elephantopus (background). By Joseph Smit PD Image

Moa Facts!

Restoration of South Island Giant Moa, Dinornis robustus (forground) and Pachyornis elephantopus (background). By Joseph Smit PD Image

The Moa were giant birds that lived in New Zealand in the lowland forest areas. It had a large body, short thick legs, a long neck, a small head and large beak. There were species ranging from the size of a turkey to an incredible height of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters).

Moa – Wingless Birds

Giant Haast’s eagle attacking New Zealand moa. Image credit: John Megahan cc2.5

They were flightless birds; in fact they didn’t even have any wings. They are the only known wingless birds. The moa are related to the emu, ostrich and kiwi which are also flightless birds. The moa are believed to have evolved from birds that, at first, had the ability to fly. Moa feasted on twigs, berries, seeds and leaves – food which could easily be found close to the ground. On the ground they were safer from their only predator – the Haast’s eagle. So over time (millions of years), the moa’s became bigger and heavier while the wings became smaller, and it got used to ground dwelling.

Gizzard Stones and Fossilized Poop

Palaeontologists working on moa bone deposits in the ‘Graveyard’, Honeycomb Hill Cave System. Image credit: Ancientnz cc3.0

Many animals, like crocodiles and other birds, swallow stones called gizzard stones. Moa also swallowed these stones. These stones would stay in the bird’s gizzard (part of the stomach), and aid to digest the tough leaves and twigs by grinding them together. Scientists have examined the fossils of the moa showing the contents of the gizzard and also studied the fossilized moa coprolites (fossilized feces) to figure out their diet.

Maoris and Extinction

Moas being hunted. Painting by Heinrich Harder. PD Image

Before humans (the Maori) arrived on the islands of New Zealand there were no large mammals to hunt the moa or their eggs, but the Maoris hunted the moa, destroyed much of the moa’s habitat and introduced mammals like cats and dogs, which fed on the moa’s eggs. Moa nested on the ground, leaving the eggs exposed to predators. The Maori arrival probably led to the disappearance of the moa. Its predator, the giant Haast’s eagle also followed the moa to extinction.

Moa is also listed in:
Top 10 Most Amazing Extinct Animals .
The moa is featured in the following book:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!

The YouTube video below is a collection of videos about the Moa. The list of videos featured is underneath.

The Playlist:

  1. Monsters we met: NEW ZEALAND GIANT MOA
  2. The New Zealand Moa by TeeVeeNZ
  3. NZ Maori: Moa Hunters by TeeVeeNZ



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