Giant Raptor Native to Asia Spotted in Maine
The Steller's sea eagle has been spotted along the coast of Maine—thousands of miles from its home territory
A Steller’s sea eagle has been spotted along Maine’s central coast. 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 in New Brunswick, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, Canada, and Massachusetts. A possible sighting was also recorded as far south as Texas. Most recently, the bird has been spotted and photographed on Maine’s central coast starting on December 30, 2021. The bird has reportedly taken a liking to areas near Boothbay Harbor.
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 is the first one that has been documented in the continental United States—about as far from its home range as it can possibly be.
Experts don’t know what’s next for this particular sea eagle. It could continue down along the Atlantic coast, or make its way back to Asia. “It’s like an avian soap opera,” Dr. Alexander Lees, a biodiversity researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University in England, told the New York Times. “We’re all rooting for it. Will it make it home? Or is it doomed to never see another species of its own in its lifetime?”
In the meantime, birdwatchers have thronged to reported sightings of the Steller’s sea eagle, including in Boothbay, Maine. People have even formed a GroupMe group focused solely on tracking the wide-ranging bird. As of January 20, 2022, the group had nearly 1,900 members. “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 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 home 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.