The Maoris, or native New Zealanders, for generations told stories about a giant bird that could swoop down and carry away human children. As it turns out, those stories held some truth after all.
Researchers recently completed CAT scans of a Haast’s eagle skeleton that was recovered in the 1870s. The scans revealed that the giant bird was incredibly strong—just like the Maori legends indicated.
Paul Scofield, curator of vertebrate zoology at Australia’s Canterbury Museum, stated that this giant bird “was certainly capable of swooping down and taking a child.”1 It had five-inch-long claws and a 10-foot wingspan, twice the size of the largest living eagle, and weighed about 40 pounds. When flying at 50 miles per hour, it would have been a distinct threat. In a news release about the study he co-authored in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Scofield reported, “This science supports Māori mythology of the legendary pouakai or hokioi, a huge bird.”2
Interestingly, very similar legends have been documented among peoples worldwide. For example, American Indians in the southeast told stories of the tlanuwa, which “built nests on mountain peaks near villages and great rivers. The gigantic birds preyed on children.”3 Similarly, the Navajo of the southwest have passed on stories of the “Killer Eagle” for generations.4
In 2005, researcher Adrienne Mayor published her photograph of a 650- to 1,000-year-old rock carving of a huge bird holding a much smaller distraught human in its beak. The carving is at the Puerco Village ruins of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Mayor summarized a Hopi Indian elder’s comment: “A long time ago, he said, a giant bird used to swoop down on the pueblos and fly away with their children.”5
This new research shows that native legends of giant eagles are based on reality. Perhaps oral and written legends of other creatures also have some factual grounding. For example, “all the First Nations of North America tell stories of Thunderbird, of its monumental size.”6 It was able to produce light, perhaps similar to the bioluminescence that is observed in some modern animals. And the Old English epic poem Beowulf includes some interesting biological observations about an enormous, ancient, long-ranging flying reptile called a “ligdraca,” or fire-dragon. Sightings and descriptions of flying reptiles have been recorded by ancient historians Herodotus, Aristotle, Philae, Aelianus, Ammianus, Mela, Solinus, Cicero, and Josephus, as well as Renaissance biologists Aldrovandi, Gesner, Topsell, and Pierre Belon.
The following account from 18th-century Scotland is similar to many other soberly presented news items that were recorded over hundreds of years across the whole of England: “In the end of November and beginning of December last, many of the country people observed …dragons…appearing in the north and flying rapidly towards the east, from which they concluded, and their conjectures were right, that … boisterous weather would follow.”7
Isaiah 30:6 describes a creature matching the tales of ancient American Indians and Anglo-Saxons:
The burden of the beasts of the south: into the land of trouble and anguish, from whence come the young and old lion, the viper and fiery flying serpent, they will carry their riches upon the shoulders of young asses, and their treasures upon the bunches of camels, to a people that shall not profit them.
It does not surprise Bible believers that strange and giant creatures lived in the recent past alongside mankind, since all were made during the same week of creation. Nor would they be surprised by the additional confirmation that flying reptiles lived among men, creatures which modern scientists called pterosaurs (“winged lizard”) after examining their fossil remains.
Evidence of man having lived, or perhaps still living, at the same time as any creature found in the fossil record or described in reliable legends—including creatures like giant eagles and flying reptiles—would be expected if the historical accounts recorded in the Bible are accurate.8
- Legendary man-eating New Zealand bird ‘did exist.’ Telegraph. Posted on telegraph.co.uk September 14, 2009, accessed September 15, 2009.
- Extinct, giant eagle was a fearsome predator. SVP & Paleo News. Posted on vertpaleo.org September 14, 2009, reporting research published in Scofield, R. P. and K. W. S. Ashwell. 2009. Rapid somatic expansion causes the brain to lag behind: the case of the brain and behavior of New Zealand’s Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 29: 3.
- Taylor, C. F., ed. 1994. Native American Myths and Legends. New York: Smithmark, 18.
- Ibid, 33.
- Mayor, A. 2005. Fossil Legends of the First Americans. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 165.
- Taylor, Native American Myths and Legends, 87.
- Flying Dragons at Aberdeen. 1793. A Statistical Account of Scotland. 6: 467. Quoted in Cooper, B. 1995. After the Flood. Chichester, UK: New Wine Press, 141.
- According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in 2002 “a bird the size of a small airplane [was] spotted flying over south-west Alaska.” One observer reported that he “radioed [nearby] Togiak residents to tell them to keep their children in.” See Mystery giant bird spotted in Alaska – paper. ABC News Online. Posted on abc.net.au October 19, 2002, accessed September 15, 2009.
* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on September 24, 2009.