A Brief Introduction to the Extinct Moa of New Zealand

The māoa were nine species of gigantic, flightless birds that were native to New Zealand. These iconic natives of New Zealand were the biggest birds on Earth for thousands of years before becoming extinct around 500 years ago. With their long, chalky-gray feather coats and huge size, the Moa were an unparalleled force in New Zealand’s ecosystem for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the Moa were wiped out by Maori and Europeans, who hunted them for their meat, fur, and feathers.

Types of Moa

The nine species of Māoa that lived in New Zealand have been categorized based on their size and anatomy.

The Megalapterygidae

This family of Moa contained the smallest species, weighing between 11 and 16kg. This ‘Little Bush Moa’ was only half the size of the next largest Moa species. They had stout legs with sharp claws, which they used to scratch at the ground in search of food.

The Dinornithidae

The Dinornithidae family of Moas were the largest of all Moa species. They were huge, up to 3 meters tall, and weighed up to 300 kg. They had long, powerful legs and could run at speeds of up to 45km/h.

The Emeidae

The Emeidae family of Moas were the second-largest species. They stood up to 2 meters tall and had thin bills, narrow wings, and a distinguishing white stripe down their backs.

Behaviour, Diet, & Impact

The Moa were herbivorous, eating seeds, leaves, buds, and woody foliage. They had an important role in New Zealand’s vast ecology, eating vegetation, breaking down dead plants, and dispersing seeds across the land.

The Moa were active during the day and spent their time browsing the soil, searching for vegetation and wading through water.

History Of The Moa

Scientists believe the Moa first arrived in New Zealand around 1.25 million years ago. They lived in such numbers and abundance that, by some estimates, as much as 99% of the herbivore biomass in New Zealand before humans arrived was made up of Moa.

Unfortunately, the Māoa became extinct during the first few centuries of human settlement. The exact cause of the Moa extinction is still not clear, but it is assumed to be due to hunting by the Māori and, later, European settlers.

Moa in Popular Culture

Since their extinction, the Māori have continued to tell stories about the Moa, and their place in New Zealand culture is still notable. The Māori myths of the Moa have been popularized in films, which have sparked interest in the species outside of New Zealand.

In New Zealand, the Moa’s place in popular culture is quite strong. In 2005, the New Zealand Mint introduced a series of moa coins. The series of coins feature Moa designs, highlighting their importance in New Zealand culture.

The Moa has also featured in numerous films, such as the animated films, ‘The Lost World’ (1925), ‘Ohara’ (2010), and ‘The Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ (2016). All these films feature the Moa as an important part of the stories.

The Moa were an important part of New Zealand’s rich history and ecology. Unfortunately, humans hunting put an end to their existence, and today they only exist in the memories of the Māori and films that feature their iconic silhouette. Despite their extinction, they are still remembered as an important part of New Zealand’s past, and continue to be celebrated in popular culture.