Dinornis maximus Bird Facts
The giant moa Dinornis maximus was less than half the weight of Dromornis stirtoni, at about 227 kg (500 lb), but it was significantly taller, the largest of many skeletons found measuring 3.7 m (12 ft). The 12 species of moa so far identified were wingless, cursorial (limbs adapted for running) ratites endemic to New Zealand and they are all extinct. However, some became extinct only within the last few centuries and they were certainly hunted by Maoris.
History of the Bird
The name moa was taken from the widespread Polynesian word for chicken after European settlers had found bones of giant extinct birds. Remains were first exhibited in 1839 and gradually a great mass of material has been discovered, enabling us to construct a fairly accurate picture of these remarkable birds. For example, between 1937 and 1949, 44 fairly complete skeletons of Dinornis maximus, ranging from 3 m (10 ft), were found in Pyramid Valley, Moa Swamp, North Canterbury on South Island.
There have been many other Dinornis maximus bones, eggshell, a few unbroken eggs, a few feathers and pieces of skin, some gizzard contents, occasional footprints, and associated plant and animal remains to provide clues. Most moas were strong and generally slow-moving birds, but capable of bursts of reasonable speed, and they probably had the loop-necked stance of emus rather than the erect carriage of the ostrich.
Dinornis maximus Diet and Habitat
Their great height and long, flexible necks would have been a great asset in reaching food and they appear to have been entirely herbivorous, seeds, berries, and shoots of a wide variety of shrubs and forest trees having been found in gizzard contents. As with all browsing animals, their bulk would accommodate the efficient digestion of food with relatively low energy value.
This reconstruction shows how Dinornis maximus, the tallest bird that ever lived, was once hunted by Maoris.
There are accounts of white settlers seeing moas after Cook’s first visit of 1769, but radiocarbon dating suggests that the birds were never common after the 15th century. Although man seems to be responsible for the extinction of all the moas by about 1800, some large areas of suitable habitat did remain and were never distributed. thus it is possible that at least one of the smaller moas survived beyond 1900.
Other Tallest Birds of the world
Apart from the dietary adaptation, great size has been of benefit to terrestrial flightless birds in compensating for their inability to escape into the air. this has been more pronounced in continental species which had to offer significant defense against a wide range of predators, but less marked in island endemics where few predators existed before man came along.
The huge, flightless Diatryma steini stood 2.2 m (7.15 ft) tall and with its large head (as big as that of a modern horse) and very powerful beak must have posed a serious threat to the mammals of North America and Europe some 38—54 million years ago. With its very strong and heavy legs it would have been one of the largest predatory birds which ever existed, taking over the niche for a bipedal carnivore left vacant by the extinction of
the flesh-eating dinosaurs.