The Island of Birds
Faces - The Magazine of People, Places and Cultures for Kids|November/December 2020
Imagine an island untouched by humans and without any large mammals. Colorful and strange birds of all shapes and sizes swoop over lush forests and seaside hills.
Mary Rudzinski

The sky is painted with endless clouds. Flightless birds nest safely on the ground, and seabirds cover the beaches. The sound of the birdsong is overwhelming. The Maori named this place “Aotearoa,” Land of the Long White Cloud. The world now knows it as New Zealand.

When the Maori sailed their waka (canoes) across the Pacific Ocean from their homeland, Hawaiki, at least 120 different species of birds lived in Aotearoa. Eleven species of moa, an ostrich-like bird, roamed freely, and the largest stood 11 feet tall. The tiny titipounamu, only three inches long, populated the forests. Sixty species of flightless birds foraged on the ground, including the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, the fast-moving, nocturnal kiwi, the only bird that finds food in soil by smell, and the curious weka, known to walk long distances. The oystercatcher, the dotterel, and the shag searched the shoreline for food. The Haast’s eagle dominated the skies with its wingspan of nearly 10 feet. Because bats were the only mammals, Aotearoa was an actual bird paradise.

How Humans Impacted Birds

Birds provided meat and eggs for the Maori and even became pets. Colorful bird feathers adorned ceremonial robes, and Maori legends and myths include birds.

Unfortunately, the Maori overhunted the moa for meat. As the moa disappeared, the Haast’s eagle lost its primary food source. By the time Europeans arrived in New Zealand, both birds were extinct.

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