In August of 2020, an unusual, but not unheard of, vagrant bird made headlines for appearing in an inland area of Alaska. The bird, a Steller’s Sea Eagle, was not an altogether unusual find for Alaska, although this is certainly not the region in which they are normally found. Matanuska-Susitna County, Alaska, however, was much farther inland than typical vagrant sea eagle sightings. This would end up being the first chapter in an incredible saga that continues now in early 2023.
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To understand this story, we must first understand what makes a bird “vagrant.” Vagrant birds are birds which have ventured outside of the normal range of territories where they would be expected to be found. Sometimes, this occurs in large numbers. Such events are called “irruptions.” Individual vagrant birds are uncommon but certainly not rare. This Steller’s Sea Eagle is, however, very much a special case.
The Steller’s Sea Eagle is a very large raptor which is typically found in Japan, along the Eastern coast of Russia, and along the North Eastern coast of Asia. While a Steller’s Sea Eagle is a very rare sight in Alaska, they are unheard of in much of the United States.
This is why, when the very same Steller’s Sea Eagle was spotted in southern Texas, the event made some serious waves. It was quickly determined that this individual bird, which could be identified by a white marking on its left wing, was the very same which had been spotted in Nova Scotia and sections of eastern Canada. This individual bird, it seems, was on an incredible cross-country trek through North America.
Nobody knows for sure why this bird’s migratory behavior has fallen so far outside of the norm for its species. Driven, perhaps, by some defect in its navigational capabilities, the stunning raptor eventually settled in Maine in 2021. There, it stayed for several months before moving on to Newfoundland for the summer of 2022. Birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts in Maine were delighted to discover on the fourth of February, 2023, that the now quite famous eagle had returned to the states.
In a move that has been described as “lightning striking twice,” the Steller’s Sea Eagle was once again spotted in the area surrounding Georgetown, Maine. It is being reported, in fact, that the eagle was spotted on almost the same tree where it had previously taken up residence in 2021.
Steller’s Sea Eagles are often recognized as amongst the most majestic and powerful birds of prey. They are also amongst the most rare. Even within their normal habitats, the wild population of Steller’s Sea Eagles was estimated to be as few as 5,000 individuals in 2009. It is thought to have slowly decreased since then. The opportunity to view one of these incredible birds is a precious one for birders within its range. Birdwatchers all over Maine have the incredible privilege to observe this bird, once again, practically within their own backyards.
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