Moa Bones from the Matthews Collection
These Moa bones were found on Bert Dick's farm, Te Hau, at Lake Grassmere.
Te Hau was on the north side of Lake Grassmere near the World War 2 bomb-aiming bunker. It was originally a swamp and most of the bones were excavated during ploughing. All the bones found here are stained with peat from the swamp.
Identification information is from Professor Richard Holdaway of Canterbury Museum who vistited Marlborough Museum for this purpose on 25th August 2012.
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The further information below on three species of moa is drawn from the book "Extinct Birds of New Zealand" by Alan Tennyson and artist Paul Martinson, published in November 2006 by Te Papa Press. Images of the moa referred to in this collection can be found in the book. At the time of writing, more information can be found here: Extinct Birds of New Zealand
The eastern moa was a short-legged, heavily built, medium-sized moa once common on the eastern lowlands of the South Island.
Its beak was relatively delicate for a moa. This and the preserved fruits, especially of matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia), and leaves (but not twigs) in gizzard samples indicate that its diet included little of the highly fibrous material often found with the remains of other moa species.
This species and the stout-legged moa had the longest windpipe of any moa-this was probably used to make deep or resonant calls that would have been loud and far reaching. These species may have used sound for social interaction more than other moa because they often lived in dense vegetation. It is uncertain whether both sexes had a long windpipe, but one theory is that moa may have been partly nocturnal to avoid being attacked by eagles and that males called at night to attract females. Only a few other birds, mainly large species such as some cranes and swans, have elongated windpipes.
The eastern moa was common in areas of mixed forest, shrubland and grassland, and was the dominant moa species found below 200 metres. Its remains are usually found in association with the stout-legged moa, the heavy-footed moa and the South Island giant moa, all of which would have filled different ecological niches based on their differing sizes and feeding habits. Although they must have often associated with each other, their habitat preferences differed, with the eastern rnoa favouring the wetter swamp forests on low-lying flats.
After the stout-legged moa, the eastern moa was the most abundant species found in the large collection of moa unearthed at the famous Wairau Bar archaeological site in Marlborough. During the relatively brief occupation of this site in the late 13th century, possibly for as few as 100 years, more than 4000 moa were consumed. These moa would have been hunted on the plains and surrounding hills of the Wairau Valley. Large numbers of moa eggs were also eaten here.
South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus)
Although giant moa occurred in the North Island, the very largest birds were probably in the South Island. The single largest moa leg bone ever found-a 1-metre-long tibia-was at North Canterbury's Glenmark swamp.
Like their northern counterparts, South Island giant moa were relatively slender, and their skulls and beaks had a flattened appearance. The two mummified remains of this species (from Knobby Range and Tiger Hill, both in Otago) preserve the large scales of the lower leg and show that the species had prominent footpads.
The robust jaws of giant moa, and the fact that they had relatively large collections of gizzard stones for grinding up food, indicate a diet high in fibrous material. This has been borne out by analyses of food found in preserved gizzards of South Island giant moa; these contained numerous twigs, as well as the remains of berries, but few herbs or grasses. This species clearly browsed on the leaves and branchlets of shrubs, trees and vines.
The South Island giant moa was widespread in areas of forest and more open, low-altitude regions, but its remains have been found in caves in the subalpine zone as well. Several swamps on the Canterbury Plains have preserved large numbers of giant moa, most famously at Pyramid Valley, the site of a spectacular collection of fossil bird remains from a wide number of species, including 64 beautifully preserved giant moa skeletons.
The South Island giant moa is common in archaeological middens. The largest known moa egg (240 millimetres x 178 millimetres) belongs to this species and must have long been considered a great taonga, as it was associated with a human burial site at Kaikoura.
Stout-legged moa (Euryapteryx curtus)
The stout-legged moa was one of the most widespread moa species, inhabiting open areas, such as the Central Plateau which was periodically cleared by volcanic activity. It was common in lowland habitats such as the coastal regions of the north and southeast of the North Island, as well as in the mix of forest, shrubland and grassland found in the eastern South Island.
As its common name suggests, the species was a stoutly built moa, with short legs. It had a short, blunt beak with the most rounded tip of any moa species. Its small number of gizzard stones, and gizzard contents of fruit and leaves of plants such as matai and pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia australis), indicate that it plucked more succulent vegetation than the branchlets sheared off by some other moa species.
The stout-legged moa had such a long windpipe that it formed a loop about a metre long inside the body. As with the eastern moa, such an extraordinary length of windpipe would have enabled it to produce loud calls that would have been heard a great distance away.
Until recently, the stout-legged moa was considered to be two species because of its highly variable size. Re-examination of its bones and new genetic work has now shown that females could weigh as much as an ostrich (Struthio camelus), though they were much shorter and more robustly built, while some males were little bigger than a turkey and smaller than adults of any other species of moa.
Remains of this moa and its eggs are common in archaeological sites. It was the most common moa found at the extensive archaeological sites of the Wairau Bar in Marlborough (13th century) and at Shag Mouth in coastal Otago (14th century). Thousands of stout-legged moa were eaten at the Wairau Bar and most of the many moa eggs consumed there were probably from this species. Its calls may have facilitated flocking and allowed it to be easily located and killed. Its eggs were also the most common type associated with human burials.