In a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists make the case that an extinct giant predatory eagle might have been eating children. The eagle was not a scavenger, as some believed, but a deadly hunter.
Of course, the paper's main conclusion isn't that the 40-pound predator of the sky was eating children. The real significance of the paper is that the bird wasn't the scavenger that some paleontologists thought it was. It's evolutionary characteristics and brain size, as measured using CAT scans, indicate that it was more of a big-game hunter.
The paper also offers another example of how rapidly evolution can happen in a closed ecosystem like an island. The eagle's body grew much faster than its brain, in this case. This growth was apparently due to the availability of much larger prey. This prey was most likely the moa bird, but the study also suggests that the eagle might have victimized small children.
In fact, if this bird really did harass the Maoris in New Zealand, it would explain their legend of the pouakai or hokioi, a giant bird that would swoop out of the mountains to attack people, sometimes even killing small children. This giant Haast's eagle might be the mythical beast from these stories. Hopefully this news doesn't mean that there actually is a frightening beast roaming the Americas sucking the blood of innocent goats.
Extinct New Zealand eagle may have eaten humans [via PhysOrg]
(Image: the Haast's eagle attacking moa birds, from PLoS)