Have You Seen Steller’s Sea Eagle?

Have you ever gotten lost?

Did you follow that GPS through a wrong turn? If so, did you wind up 5,000 miles from home?

I think not, but, that happened to this Steller’s sea eagle.

Where did he come from?

The usual Steller’s sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) habitat stretches up the rocky Asian coastline from Hokkaido, Japan, to Kamchatka Krai Peninsula, Russia. It is not uncommon to spot a few in North America around Bristol Bay, Alaska, 1,145 miles away from home. This is where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ornithologists believe it was spotted in July/August 2020. He is easily identified because of his size, up to 20 pounds, and his wingspan, up to eight feet. Coloration adds to identification with bright yellow beak and legs framing a white-shouldered, dark brown to black body. This particular guy has a unique white spot on one wing.

Why is he here?

No one knows exactly how he came to be in North America. Those typical to Alaska come over for the salmon run. However, rarely do we find them east of there. When a bird migrates out of its zone, biologists call this vagrancy. This vagrant may have been blown off course by a storm. Perhaps his internal magnetic sensibilities show abnormalities.

Where has he been?

From the initial sighting in Alaska, he may have roamed to Coleto Creek Reservoir in Victoria, Texas. That is about a 3,275-mile flight! A photo of the Texas sighting shows a Steller’s sea eagle perched on a tree. Therefore, we cannot be certain that is the same guy. However, how many have ever been spotted in Texas? I think none. Besides, why Texas in March? Maybe he just got tired of winter and searched for a milder temperate holiday…

cropped Photo: Carl D. Walsh

Where is he now?

Most recently, as of January 2022, he is hanging out with his bald eagle friends in Boothbay, Maine. That is another 205 miles further north than the sighting of December 2021. Then, the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife located him close to the Taunton River around Dighton Rock State Park just outside of Berkley, Massachusetts. So, we have two options. First, if he came up from Texas, he traveled another 1,732 miles. Second, if he flew in from Alaska to Massachusetts, he clocked 3,822 miles plus another 200 miles from Dighton Rock to Boothbay. Either way, that totals at least 5,000 miles and at the most more than 6,000 miles. Thankfully, he is in a climate more suitable to his home habitat.

What happens next?

We just have to wait and see! Again from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Facebook page: Bald eagles and Steller’s sea eagles are closely related (in the same genus Haliaeetus) and have been known to form pairs in at least one case in Alaska. So, perhaps he found his mate after all. Eagles are monogamous and form long-lasting bonds. The one case in Alaska claims a mixed pair has been together for more than 10 years during the breeding season. Courtship season begins in February … soooo?

Regardless of conjecture, the roaming of this Steller’s sea eagle remains unprecedented. A couple of wrong turns and suddenly he found himself more than 5,000 miles from home. I have been lost before, but never like that!

For a map of all his sightings, check out the Audubon posting.

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