Modern Animal

See similar animal Ostrich
For more reference and gallery visit New Zealand Birds-Moa
National Geographic presented news on the slow growth of moa News Report-Moa


General Information


Moa is a truly wingless bird lacking even the vestigial wings other ratites have. They were the dominant herbivores located in the New Zealand forest in shrublands and subalpine ecosystems however with the arrival of Maori (people live in New Zealand), all eleven species were generally believed to have become extinct. If there were more than eleven species counted, it was the cause of sexual dimorphism. They were given the name Dinornithidae; “terrible birds” due to their aggressive behaviour towards invaders was devastating. They attained a safe and great development in their habitats until humans appeared.

Scientific Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Struthioniformes
Family: Dinornithidae


Moa were distributed all over the North and South Island in New Zealand that were isolated and were home to no land mammals. They were the dominant terrestrial species on the island. The high rainfall on the west coast allows moa to adapt conveniently and they tend to inhabit drier forest and shrublands habitats in North Island though each individual moa species have their preferences.

New Zealand Ratities

Moa habitat
Moa habitat

Anomalopteryx didiformis and Dinornis giganteus are located in the fauna on the west coast beech forests and Pachyornis elephantopus, Euryapteryx gravis, Emeus crassus and Dinornis robustus in the fauna of the dry rainshadow forest and shrublands east of the Southern Alps. On the South are the two other moa species Pachyornis australis and Megalapteryx didinus that are included in a ‘subalpine fauna’, along with the widespread Dinornis robustus. P. australis is the rarest of the moa species and the only one yet to have been discovered in the Maori middens. Some species are adapted to living in high altitude mountains where it is mostly seen as a seasonally snowy habitat.

Structural Adaptation One

Structure of a moa
Moa exhibit distinct structural modifications; the largest is the long-legged moa Dinornis that has the longest and slender leg-bones with large and vaulted skull
s. Moa have no wings and they were nicknamed “running birds” due to their long sturdy and large legs allowing them to quickly run and avoid predators.

Moa necks are projected forwards rather than upwards that are similar to kiwi yet their head can’t rise any higher than two meters. The trachea of moa were supported with many small bone rings that are known as tracheal rings were about one meter forming a large loop within the body cavity meaning their deep and resonant vocalizations can travel long distances. They are an unusual species since they don’t have a tail and similar to kiwi they can’t fly.

Structural Adaptation Two:

Moa reaching food

Moa did not stand around with their heads in the air as their head was only slightly above the level of the back due to vertebral articulation instead they carry their head forwards in the manner of a kiwi. Moa are large however they are not tall since a female moa can only reach two meters high at the back yet its head would not able to hold much higher. They can only get leaves, twigs and fruit that are three meters above the ground. Apart its height, they have a lack of upper-arm bones.

In each species moa have different colour feathers including yellow, reddish brown, white and purple and dark feathers with white or creamy tips indicates some moa species have had plumage with a speckled appearance. The species was feathered right down to the foot that is likely an adaptation to living in high altitude mountains.

Moa doesn’t have any breast muscles and they have a bony ridge to their tendons in the tibia and shoulder-girdle, wanting
. They are covered with reddish brown feathers all over their body that are tipped with white and black though sometimes the feathers are a yellowish central stripe. Moa exhibit soft tissues consisting of muscles, skin and feathers that have preserved through desiccation located in the driest part of New Zealand, Central Otago region.

Behavioral Adaptation One:

Moa were revealed as K-strategists similar to many other endemic New Zealand birds. They are characterized having low fecundity and l
Moa egg
ong maturation periods taking at least ten years to grow into adulthood. Moa varied in size, some were up to thirteen feet tall while some dominate the size of a turkey. Most male and female moa guard their nests conservatively. A large female moa weighs the same as a human man and its eggs is relatively huge contributing to the reason of the female’s size. The eggs were at least one and a half times larger than the male and three times heavier dominating most of the space inside the stomach leading to gestation where the female is unable to move and eat. The eggs are a pale green colour and were a favourite food of the Maori who had exterminated these animals. The large Dinornis species however need the same time to reach adult size as a small moa species, due to accelerated rate of skeletal growth during their juvenile years.

Behavioral Adaptation Two:

Moa has an interest to hunting that is different than other wingless birds. The aggressive Polynesian invaders that arrived in New Zealand in mid twelfth-century were a culture experience towards the moa that had no predators in more than one hundred million years was a devastating effect. The moa had defended themselves using their long legs kicking their enemies and the battle was a catastrophe.

Physiological Adaptation:

Hunting Moa

Moa have soft tissues (muscles, skin, feathers) that can survive and preserve through descissation and other dry conditions

Extinction Pressure
Footprints of moa

Moa may have been hunted to extinction within a century of human arrival to New Zealand. The arrival of the Maori threatened the safe and secured habitat the moa were living. Moa was an easy prey since the hunting of the animal provided enough food surpluses sufficient to manage the settling of villages that were the Maori permanent coastal encampments. Most of the eggs the moa lay were killed or eaten and hunting was at peak activity leading to deforestation and not only was they the predators, the Haast’s Eagle had preyed on moa. Despite the moa hunting society collapsed, all species were slaughtered.


Wikipedia (2010) Moa Retrieved June 16th 2010 from

Messybeasts (n.d) Elephant Bird and Moa Retrieved June 16th 2010 from

New Zealand Birds (n.d) Moa Retrieved June 16th 2010 from