Mordor's Gigantic
Eagles Really Flew

By Nigel Hawkes
Times Online
The enormous eagles that swoop down in the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings to rescue Sam and Frodo from a desolate New Zealand landscape masquerading as Mordor may not be as far-fetched as they seem.
Genetic data just published provides new details of the evolution of a New Zealand eagle so big that it was near the upper limit of body weight for flight. Haast,s eagle was vast, with a wingspan of up to 3m (9ft 10in) and a weight of 15kg (33lb), but it preyed on huge flightless birds " moas " that weighed ten times more.
The eagle,s goose was cooked by the arrival of man. Maori oral history, rock art and eagle bones shaped into tools by man prove that the first settlers co-existed with the huge eagle, and may even have been threatened by it.
A team from Oxford, University College London and universities in the US and New Zealand has isolated DNA from fossil remains of the long-extinct bird and compared it with the DNA of 16 surviving eagle species. The conclusion is that the closest relations to the giant are some of the smallest eagles of all, the little eagle and the booted eagle, which weigh about 1kg and have a wingspan of 1.2m.
The team, led by Michael Bunce, of the Henry Wellcome Ancient Biomolecules Centre at Oxford, conclude that Haast,s eagle arrived in New Zealand relatively recently as a smallish bird from Asia or Australia, then grew explosively. It swooped at up to 50mph, grasping the hindquarters of the flightless moa, killing it by inflicting crushing wounds.
The end came after colonisation. Men found the moa easy to hunt. The birds became extinct. Deprived of its source of food, the eagle followed.,,2-1425164,00.html



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