TODAY |

NZ’s largest predator painstakingly recreated, 600 years after extinction

Kiwis will soon be able to stand next to New Zealand’s largest prehistoric predator, the Haast eagle.

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The haast eagle was recreated from bones found over the years. Source: 1 NEWS

The giant bird will be revealed in its most accurate form yet as part of the Te Taiao Nature exhibition opening at Te Papa Museum in Wellington on May 11.

Due to a lack of evidence, creating a life-sized artistic model of a native bird that’s been extinct for around 600 years was challenging.

"There’s no really good records of what they really used to look like, we’ve only got bones to go on," birds curator Alan Tennyson told 1 NEWS.

The species' size meant every aspect had to be created from scratch, sculptor Jake Yocum said.

"I sculpted the talons in a hard material and carved them to get that hard feel to the talon, and then embedded it into plasticine so you're getting that soft and hard... like a fingernail and a hand," Mr Yocum said.

Mr Yocum said while he's proud of all elements of the model, he's particularly pleased with how the finished head and talons look.

"On and off, it took six to eight weeks to create the head... moulding, casting, painting and taxidermy."

Feathers from pea hens, turkeys and peacocks were carefully selected and spliced together to create wing feathers realistic and large enough to be those of a Haast eagle.

“We had quite a lot of debate around the colours of the feathers. I was always trying to tone it down a bit so it didn’t look too crazy," Mr Tennyson said.

Mr Tennyson said the structure of the wing's feathers and tail are "quite incredible" as layers of feathers can be seen with the same detail as a real bird's.

"There have been previous models but no one has made one quite like this."

Mr Tennyson is confident the outcome of the five-month creative process has achieved the most accurate look possible and says this will tell a whole new story about the eagle.

Mr Yocum said the "unique" experience has been amazing, and "well-worth the stress and grey hairs."

"I don't think I could top it at this point," he said.

He hopes children that see the model think it's a taxidermy of a real Haast eagle.

"I hope that people will understand that we used to have a lot of amazing creatures in New Zealand which are now extinct and maybe people will think more about trying to protect some of the ones that are left," Mr Tennyson said.

The model is posed as if its coming in for the kill.

The main cause of the giant bird's extinction was overhunting of its food source, moa, by humans.

Mātauranga Māori curator Bradford Haami said stories have been passed on about Māori people remembering the call of the Haast eagle and humans becoming prey.

"It could swoop down, take birds but it could also be remembered as taking people."

The Haast eagle is the largest eagle in the world, weighing up to 17.8 kg, and with a wingspan of up to three metres.