Why It's Surprising To See A Steller's Eagle In The US

Seeing an eagle in Maine probably wouldn't shock you. The state is home to two types of eagles — golden eagles and bald eagles (the latter, of course, is also a national symbol of the United States). 

The Steller's sea eagle, a rare and vulnerable species, is native to eastern Asia, from Siberia down to the Korean peninsula and northern Japan, according to The Boston Globe. When a Steller's sea eagle settled in Maine in early 2022, it had to travel across the continent to get there, beginning in Alaska. How this bird — one of only 3,600 to 4,700 extant in the world today — managed this journey is incredible.

The large sea eagle, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet, according to MassLive, first flew to Texas before it traveled back up toward Canada, and then to Massachusetts and Maine, per Audubon. This, according to the birding organization, is an example of vagrancy, or the proclivity of some birds to travel far from their homes.

A new home in America?

Vagrancy has many causes, and raptors like the Steller's sea eagle also might travel due to habitat loss, climate change, other environmental threats, or even just confusion, according to Audubon.

The bird seems content to stay put for now. Maine is not that different from the Siberian coastline, as anyone who has visited Portland in the winter could tell you. "The estuaries and harbors along Maine's coast are similar enough to the habitat this bird would (or should) be using in coastal Japan that the eagle is about as 'at home' as it could be, despite being on the wrong continent," Doug Hitchcox, a Maine Audubon naturalist, told The Boston Globe. There's even a chance that it could mate with a bald eagle — hybrid species have been observed before.

But there's also a chance that, having made this journey, it could return to Japan or Russia, Hitchcox told MassLive. The bird appears healthy, according to Audubon, and is clearly up for a long trip.