Haast’s Eagle – It Was Very Good

Haast’s Eagle (Hieraaetus moorei)

This giant endemic eagle was the largest predator among New Zealand’s fauna. It is the largest, heaviest eagle species yet described. The species was first described in 1871 from remains found in a former marsh.

Haast’s Eagle was known to the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, who named it the “Hikioi” or “Pouakai.” Maori oral tradition from the late 1800s records that it had red, black and white plumage with “black feathers tinged with yellow or green” and “a bunch of red feathers on its head” and lived in the mountains.

Various studies estimate that the Haast Eagle could have weighed as much 30 pounds and a wingspan of nearly 10 feet! Females were larger than males. The birds feet and claws were as big as a modern day tiger’s! The Haast Eagle was an apex predator and is believed to have hunted that other extinct bird of the island the Moa.

It is believed that the arrival of the Maori in the 13th century and their hunting of the Moa to extinction are the primary contribution to the extinction of the Haast’s Eagle.

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Gull Island Vole – It Was Very Good

Meadow Vole, Manuel Crank, 2010

Gull Island Vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus nesophilus

The Gull Island Vole is known solely from 15 specimens collected in 1897 that now reside in Washington, D.C. This subspecies of Meadow Vole was endemic to Great Gull Island off of Long Island, New York.

The species is believed to have gone extinct at the end of 1898 when Fort Michie was constructed on the island, destroying its habitat.

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Guam Flying Fox – It Was Very Good

Guam Flying Fox
Guam Flying Fox, Peter Schouten, 1998

Guam Flying Fox (Pteropus tokudae)

Once native to the island of Gaum, the tokudae was first documented in 1931, roosting with another bats species on the island, the larger and much more common Marianas flying-fox.

Very little is known about the species. The local people, Chamorro, who hunted the bat always considered it a rare catch. The Guam Flying Fox was a small megabat with a body length of about six inches and a wingspan just over two feet. The top of the head is greyish, the back, throat, and underparts brown or dark brown and the side of the neck golden-brown. It is unknown where or how the tokudae lived.

Guam Flying Fox
Holotype skin of Pteropus tokudae. AMNH 87117, adult male, from Guam, collected 10 Aug 1931 by W.F. Coultas

Only three specimens of this bat have ever been collected, the last in 1968. There have been no confirmed sightings since then. It is unclear what exactly lead to the extinction of the tokudae, the introductions of exotic species, forest alteration and degradation, and excessive hunting have all been proposed.

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Great Auk – It Was Very Good

Great Auk
Great Auk, John Gerrard Keulemans, 1871-1896

Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis)

The Great Auk was a flightless bird endemic to the North Atlantic until the late 19th century. The animals range once extended from Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Ireland and Great Britain. With some records indicating that it traveled as far south as Spain in Euroasia and Florida in North America.

You might recognize the first word in the Auk’s Latin binomial, pinguinus, which is where we get our word penguin. The penguins we know today are named after the Great Auk, though the two birds are not closely related.

The Great Auk stood between two and three feet tall and weighed around 11 pounds. Its feathers were a glossy black and white, black on the upper and white on the lower, with a pattern of white feathers on both sides of the head between the beak eyes.  Their beaks were black with white grooves along it. Its feet and claws were black and webbed. Juveniles had less prominent grooves in their beaks and had mottled white and black necks.

Great Auks were excellent swimmers, using their wings to swim underwater. Their main food was fish.

Great Auk
Taxidermied Great Auk

The Great Auk went extinct around the mid-1850s. The bird was hunted for its down feathers, for food, and even as an alternative fuel. As the bird became increasingly rare it became more and more attractive to the wealthy of Europe as a collectible and museums for their specimen cabinets. The last Great Auk in Great Britain was reportedly beaten to death with a stick on the suspicion that it was a witch. The last North Atlantic colony was eliminated when the last two adults were strangled for their pelts and their lone egg crushed under bootheel.

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