A famous Steller’s sea eagle has again been spotted in Maine. The species is endemic to China, Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia. This particular bird was first spotted in Alaska over 4,000 miles from its native range in 2020, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Since then, it’s been seen in a host of places across North America, including New Brunswick, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, Canada, as well as Massachusetts. A possible sighting was also recorded as far south as Texas. Last winter, the bird was spotted and photographed on Maine’s central coast starting on December 30, 2021. It was primarily seen in areas near Boothbay Harbor. According to Maine Audubon, the eagle stayed in Maine through March 5, 2022, before heading north.
The large raptor is considered by ornithologists to be a “vagrant,” meaning simply that it strayed beyond its normal range at some point. This phenomenon can result from individual birds getting blown off course during storms or making other navigational mistakes, but it is also known to occur when birds venture out on their own to seek out new territory. Steller’s sea eagles have been spotted before in coastal Alaska, but this was the first one that was documented in the continental United States—about as far from its home range as it can possibly be.
In the summer of 2022, the eagle moved north into Newfoundland, Canada. Then it began slowly making its way south again. It was reported to be in northeast New Brunswick in November and then disappeared for several months before being spotted in Maine on February 4, 2023. The eagle’s return immediately initiated a frenzy among birdwatchers in the region, who flocked to the area to see and photograph the well-known Steller’s eagle.
“I would say that this is the most exciting rare bird that’s ever been in the United States,” Nick Lund, the advocacy and outreach coordinator for Maine Audubon, told HuffPost. “There are only 4,000 of them in the entire world…It’s on a different continent [than its home range], but it is in a place that is very much like its native range. I choose to sort of celebrate it as an explorer…going out on its own and making its way in the world.”
The Steller’s sea eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in the world, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet, according to National Geographic. Members of the species typically feed on salmon and trout. Relatively little is known about Steller’s sea eagles because of the remoteness of their native range, which includes the rocky seacoasts and rivers of northeastern Siberia in Russia, though they’re known to migrate as far south as Hokkaido, Japan during the winter.