News Historic sea eagle sighting thrills birders

Far from its native range, a Steller’s sea eagle made a recent stopover along the Taunton River.
  • Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Media Contact for Historic sea eagle sighting thrills birders

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Steller's sea eagle

On December 17, MassWildlife received a report about a Steller’s sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) from David Ennis, who had photographed this unusual raptor a few days earlier along the Taunton River in Dighton. It is the first time this species, native to northeast Asia, has been documented in Massachusetts and eastern North America. Based on its distinctive wing markings, ornithologists are certain this is the same bird reported in 2020 in Alaska and then observed in the summer and fall of 2021 in eastern Canada. According to MassWildlife Ornithologist Andrew Vitz, it’s not uncommon for vagrant birds from Europe to appear in Massachusetts; however, birds from Japan, Korea, China, and eastern Russia are completely unexpected. Vitz and other biologists speculate this bird may have been caught in a storm blowing it off course, or it may have simply made a basic navigational error.

The Steller’s sea eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world, weighing up to 20 pounds with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. With its dark body, striking white wing markings and a huge yellow-orange beak, this bird is an imposing sight. By comparison, the American bald eagle weighs as much as 15 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan. Primarily a fish eater, the Steller’s sea eagle spends its time hunting and scavenging near large inland bodies of water and coastal areas.

As word of the eagle’s presence spread, enthusiasts flocked to the Taunton River from as far away as Pennsylvania and New York. Those who saw the sea eagle were fortunate, as it was only seen in the Dighton and Somerset area for about a week before moving on. The eagle was spotted along the coast of southern Maine on December 30. No doubt, birders and photographers across the region are keeping an “eagle eye” on coastal waters and inland waterbodies, hoping to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this magnificent bird.

Media Contact for Historic sea eagle sighting thrills birders

Division of Fisheries and Wildlife 

MassWildlife is responsible for the conservation of freshwater fish and wildlife in the Commonwealth, including endangered plants and animals. MassWildlife restores, protects, and manages land for wildlife to thrive and for people to enjoy.
Image credits:  David Ennis

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