The World’s Largest Flightless Bird – The Moa: Does It Still Exist?

It was once the world’s largest and greatest flightless bird until its extinction somewhere around the 1500s when it was believed to have been hunted to death by New Zealand’s native population, the Maori. So what made New Zealand’s Moa so special?

The Moa, native only to a chain of islands at the bottom of the world known as Aotearoa (meaning The Land of The Long White Cloud), was cut off from all predators with the exception of the worlds largest eagle, the Haast Eagle and so was able to thrive. A flightless bird closely related to today’s ostrich, emu and cassowary, the Moa stood at around 12 feet tall and weighed upwards of 500 pounds.

Image via Wikipedia

The giant land walker was part of a group of 10 species of flightless bird in New Zealand at the time, the largest collection of flightless birds in any one country of which only 6 remain in the present day. A unique feature of the Moa is that it was the only bird without even vestigial wings.

It was a herbivore dominating the forest floor some people believing that if it was not eventually extinct, it would have decimated the natural beauty of New Zealand’s forests. The Moa could be found all over both of New Zealand’s main islands, the North and South such was the multitude of the species at the time.

Fiordland can be sighted at the bottom left of the South Island.

Image via Wikipedia

Accounts of its existence were first documented in 1838 by trader Joel Polack who lived on the east coast of the North Island, at first mistaking them for ostrich or emu bones. Native Maori had however talked of giant birds and their existence in the South Island and eventually its bones were confirmed as that of the Moa by London biologist Richard Owen in 1839. However his confirmation was not authenticated until 2004.

Richard Owen

Image via Wikipedia

The Moa were driven to extinction around the 1500’s due mainly to the hunting of it by Maori for use of its meat, bones for tools, and feathers for garments. The egg shells were also used as water containers. Its only natural predator before the arrival of humans was the gigantic Haast Eagle.

Image via Wikipedia

Despite its accepted extinction by scientists, rumours have circulated about the possibility of the Moa still existing today. In the dense rainforest area of Fiordland in South Westland, there has been speculation and unconfirmed sightings of the giant bird as late as 2008. It is a very real possibility as another flightless bird native to New Zealand the Takahe was deemed extinct in 1898 but a confirmed evidential sighting in Fiordland in 1948 reconfirmed their existence. Today they thrive.

Fiordland National Park

Image via Wikipedia

Does the Moa still exist? You decide.

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18 Responses to “The World’s Largest Flightless Bird – The Moa: Does It Still Exist?”
  1. Kate Smedley Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 4:33 am

    I’d not heard of the Moa. It would be fascinating if it still existed after all this time. Enjoyable article, thank you.

  2. Betty Carew Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 5:51 am

    I would like to think that it does but I have a feeling that this bird is gone the way of extinction

  3. Dee Gold Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 9:17 am

    puzzling but I like it

  4. Lost in Arizona Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Considering how vast our planet is, it’s hard to believe the possibility of extinction on some species (like fish and reptiles). Many were thought to have died millions of years ago, and yet scientists have proven their existence. So why not believe in the possibility of Moas roaming around somewhere?

  5. Jo Oliver Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I dont know if it still is around or not, but it is fascinating!

    Great job, as always.

  6. Clay Hurtubise Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    Yes, they are still around. They taste like chicken. :)
    Interesting article, good pics.

  7. Juancav Says...

    On March 1, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Excellent this article deserves an expedition to find this bird.

  8. papaleng Says...

    On March 2, 2009 at 4:41 am

    an interesting article and proper authorities need to investigate the claim that these birds do still lives.

  9. Maria Blazz Says...

    On March 2, 2009 at 5:18 am

    Interesting article!

  10. CutestPrincess Says...

    On March 2, 2009 at 8:17 am

    It was once the world’s largest and greatest flightless bird until its extinction somewhere around the 1500s when it was believed to have been hunted to death by New Zealand’s native population, the Maori. good article!

  11. Lauren Axelrod Says...

    On March 2, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    A real live ancestor from Jurassic park. Amazing!

  12. vfrost Says...

    On March 2, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    another interesting article!

  13. eddiego65 Says...

    On March 3, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Fascinating! Great article.

  14. asgeir valur sigurdsson Says...

    On May 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I think that in the far future most extinct animals will be recreated , including most extinct plants.
    It´s going to be much easier to return genetically modified plants to normal and today people are talking about extinct animals being recreated or returned to normal.
    What if the Maori knew that the Moa hadn´t gone extinct at all but dediced instead to cover up the remaining few birds so that they could allow the species to reach normal numbers? This would enable them to control the evolution of the descendants of the species by slowly maintaining a tradition of covering up the evidence of any remaining descendants. What if the New Zealand authorities are collaborating in an extremely important and efficient coverup on returning previously extinct species to the wild in full cooperation with some Maori authorities?
    Such coverups will become extremely important in the far future provided any of them might be taking place in the present.

  15. Mallory Says...

    On June 13, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    The cases of the Moa and the Takahe are very different. The takahe is a small bird – the Moa was huge, requiring an extensive range, and leaving obvious tracks. In addition, had the Moa not been hunted to extinction, it would have been out-competed by the introduced deer and goats.

    @asgeir – the Maori were a tribal society in a constant state of war. They would not have had the level of cooperation to recognise that the Moa were nearing extinction across the country, nor would they have been able to cooperate with other tribes to preserve them. Further, given their limited diet, (NZ has no native mammals except for bats and one species of forest rat) the Maori would have been unlikely to sacrifice any available food.
    If Moa had ever been rediscovered, the NZ government would not have hidden it (as precedented by the cases of the Takahe and Black Robin) rather, massive, public, efforts would have been made to preserve the species.

  16. Brad - NZ Says...

    On August 16, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    True true Mallory. Also to Juancav – many such expeditions have been made. Not just in search of the Moa though, there is a considerable number of extinct species we wouldn’t mind stumbling upon in what’s left of our forests.

  17. ZEESHAN Says...

    On January 2, 2010 at 8:39 am

    they are still alive in the beautiful forests of new zealand.i bet ya

  18. White Power Says...

    On March 10, 2012 at 2:09 am

    Bull-she! the Moa is long gone. Those low intelligent and inept Maori\’s wiped them out and their habitats, because of their lack of knowledge of conservation back then. It\’s a sad loss but it\’s the way it is. I guess nature selected the Moas for extinction. It would have been dangerous for trampers if Moas were alive today, being chase by a 12 foot bird and mauled to death by their beaks and strong talons. It\’s just as well .

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