"The Steller’s sea eagle frenzy is most welcome."
In this Dec. 31, 2021, photo, a Steller's sea eagle is seen off Georgetown near a crow. Credit: Zachary Holderby / Downeast Audubon via AP

It’s back. The Steller’s sea eagle was sighted and photographed last Saturday in Arrowsic, not far from where it achieved fame and fortune last winter.

You’ll recall that this is one of the largest raptors in the world, big enough to swallow a bald eagle whole. It’s native to Siberia and northern Japan, rarely wandering. But this one gets around.

Despite its size, the sea eagle is elusive. It’s not particularly uncomfortable around people. It just likes cold, rugged coastlines people find uncomfortable.

After leaving Maine last winter, it spent much of the summer in Newfoundland. Although birders were aware of its presence there, it was seldom spotted. It moved down into New Brunswick’s coastal waters in autumn, where sightings remained rare. I expect it’ll tease Mainers again for a while or drift farther south and torment Massachusetts.

It may not be a coincidence that the sea eagle returned to Maine on the coldest, wind-chilliest day of the year. The weather was worse farther north, and there’s only so much inconvenience a bird will put up with. Sea eagles dine primarily on fish, waterfowl and whatever they steal from smaller eagles. They are adapted to deal with cold, but not so cold that the ocean freezes and there’s no food to catch. Welcome back.

Now that the Steller’s sea eagle is back, it will likely be seen all over the state — or suspected at least. Bald eagles are beginning their nesting season, and they’re moving around a lot. They’re congregating near open water. They’re hanging out near ice fishermen, hoping to snatch discarded fish or bait. Adult eagles are courting noisily. Young eagles are exerting their newfound independence, and making a lot of noise, too.

Young bald eagles are dark. Lacking the white head and tail, they can look larger than adults at a distance. They are sometimes confused with golden eagles, in the belief that golden eagles are larger than bald. They’re not.

There was at least one nesting pair of golden eagles in northern Maine a couple of decades ago, but they were never very successful, and eventually gave up. Golden eagle sightings in Maine are rare nowadays, but a few do pass through Maine on their way to nests in Atlantic Canada.

Any Maine report of a golden eagle sighting must be taken seriously. That is, unless the report asserts, “it was the largest eagle I ever saw.” In reality, the two species are the same size.

The Steller’s sea eagle frenzy is most welcome. The celebrity has attracted birding tourists from out of state, and inspired many Mainers to become more interested in birds. If all birders behave themselves, don’t crowd the raptor and respect private property, it’s quite a win for birding in Maine. Meanwhile, the bird appears to be doing very well. It’s healthy, well-fed and practically immune to cold.

The craze may tempt folks to think that the “really big” eagle they just saw was the Steller’s sea eagle, even inland. In fairness, the bird moves around a lot. Furthermore, it wandered all the way from Siberia to Texas before crossing the continent to Maine. So, it’s always possible that it can wander away from the coast. But not likely. As its name implies, the sea eagle is most at home by the sea, and it isn’t likely to abandon a plentiful food supply.

Immature bald eagles are dark, and may appear bigger than adults. But the Steller’s sea eagle is unmistakably huge with bright white shoulder patches that can’t be confused with any other eagle.

The Steller’s sea eagle is not the only unlikely bird to wander into Maine over the past week. A common ringed plover made a surprising appearance in Biddeford. This species looks very much like the semipalmated plovers that flood Maine mudflats in late summer, but it is strictly a breeding bird of the Eurasian Arctic. A wandering bird does show up now and then, but it’s rare. Only about a dozen have been reported along the entire Atlantic seaboard in the last 10 years.

Even though common ringed plovers are Arctic nesters, they winter in Africa and the Middle East. They are not invulnerable to icy weather. This Biddeford bird showed up during the bitter cold spell last week, and managed to hang on for a few days before ultimately succumbing to the elements. Not all wandering bird stories have happy endings.

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Bob Duchesne, Good Birding

Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.