Scientists suggest the largest eagle that ever existed hunted down its 500-pound prey and then stuck its head inside to gorge on organs.
At Craigmore Station in Canterbury, New Zealand, an ancient Maori painting decorates the limestone overhang of a cave. Thought to depict an extinct eagle, the painted raptor gives the cave its name: Te Ana Pouakai, or the Cave of the Eagle. But this wasn’t just any bird — it may have been a Haast’s eagle, which had wingspans between six and 10 feet, making the species the largest known eagle.
The Maori artist painted the bird with a dark body and an outline of a head and neck that is more reminiscent of the bald head of a vulture than the feathery dome of an eagle.
Now, a group of scientists suggest the extinct eagle may have looked just like its painted form. By creating 3-D models of the extinct bird’s skull, beak and talons, the group tested how well the eagle performed against living raptors in a series of feeding simulations. Their results, published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, argue the Haast’s eagle hunted like a predatory eagle but feasted like a scavenging vulture.