The bird paparazzi are back.
A rare Steller’s sea eagle native to the eastern coast of Asia, which caused a birding frenzy last winter, has returned to Maine, officials said.
“It’s a celebrity sighting,” said Doug Hitchcox, a naturalist at Maine Audubon. “It’s like Taylor Swift has announced that she’s just going to be performing along this river and anyone who shows up can watch it happen.”
Since the large eagle’s first appearance Feb. 4, hundreds of birders have flocked about 45 miles north of Portland to the small town of Georgetown, hoping to catch a glimpse.
Specialists estimate there are only about 4,000 Steller’s sea eagles in the world.
“If you’re taking a specific trip, like to Japan in the winter, going out on a boat to some ice floes, that’s kind of your only chance to see one,” Hitchcox said. “But now, it’s just hanging out in Midcoast Maine.”
The same eagle was spotted in New England last winter from late December to March. Most birders thought that would be the last time they would see the species, Hitchcox said. But in a seemingly impossible turn of events, the wandering bird has made its way back to Maine.
“It’s a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I think a lot of people were already floored by it last year,” Hitchcox said.
Organizations like Maine Audubon have been closely tracking the bird since its last visit and have confirmed it’s the same raptor.
The estuaries and harbors along Maine’s coast have similar conditions to the eagle’s native regions of eastern Russia, the Korean peninsula, and northern Japan, according to Maine Audubon. Still, it’s a mystery why the bird has returned. While eagles will occasionally roam outside of their habitats, most settle into a territory once they reach adulthood, Hitchcox said.
“It’s bizarre,” he said. “There’s a lot that we can’t explain.”
That’s only increased the excitement from birders around the country. Many have posted photos on social media, delighting thousands of enthusiasts who are eagerly awaiting updates on the bird’s next move.
The large birds have up to an 8-foot wingspan and weigh 13 to 20 pounds, according to National Geographic. They “make our bald eagles seem tiny,” Hitchcox said. He said he spotted the sea eagle when it visited last year.
“My favorite thing is that you’ll always see people saying, ‘It’s in my scope. It’s in my scope.’ And then you come running,” he said. “You get to just get that quick view because they could fly away any moment. There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie.”
No one knows how long the Steller’s sea eagle will stick around this time. Until it does, it’s likely a crowd of birders will be nearby.
“Anytime someone says, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’ll find it,’ I’ve told people just to go,” Hitchcox said. “There are going to be 20 to 50 people there and they’ll point it out to you. And it’s been one of the coolest things over this past year.”
We arrived in Georgetown today just in time to catch the incredibly rare Steller's sea eagle in flight twice, although very far away. Birders from all over the U.S. have converged here hoping to see the raptor that's nearly never seen in the United States. @WGME @FOX23Maine pic.twitter.com/FMgAEFqGXZ— WGME Photojournalist 🎥📡 (@MENewsPhotog) February 6, 2023
The Steller's sea eagle is back! Some enterprising birders are seeing it this morning from TNC's Flying Point Preserve in Georgetown.— The Nature Conservancy in Maine (@TNCmaine) February 6, 2023
If you visit, please aim to park in the lot and be certain that traffic and emergency vehicles can get by on the road at all times! pic.twitter.com/WEOUEiWEFY
Kate Armanini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KateArmanini.