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Bird of the Week
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Bird of the Week: Steller’s Sea Eagle

Journey with us to the far shores of Japan and Russia, where this incredible bird rules over all that it surveys.

This week’s Bird of the Week is so good that I am going to give it a drum roll. (Drum roll sounds….further drum roll sounds……yet more drum roll sounds, the anticipation is climbing sky-high….) meet the steller’s sea eagle!!!

Credit: Robert tdc

We have to start with the look, of course. The steller’s achieves what I am rapidly coming to believe is the ideal of the greatest birds, which is to look at once kind of goofy and profoundly majestic. It has that majorly oversized beak which is almost cartoonish, and it is so big—it is both the largest sea eagle and the heaviest eagle of any kind in the world—that it will never visually scan as a fleet-footed ballet dancer bird, but it still exudes a grace and a command that give it a spellbinding power. In other words, this bird rules! Let’s. do another picture.

Credit: Sascha Wenninger

Just unreal. You will notice in the above picture that the steller’s is flying above gray and icy seas, and that it is carrying a fish in its talons. This is because the steller’s sea eagle is found in a very small portion of the world, and that portion is cold and full of ice. From National Geographic:

These eagles are believed to breed only in far eastern Russia, along the coasts and surrounding islands of the Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea. They are most common on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Each winter, many Steller’s sea eagles migrate from their breeding grounds to Japan, and a few reach Korea or even farther afield. Other individuals do not migrate, but simply move to open water as winter approaches.

Nature is cool because it is full of facts like “the heaviest eagle in the world confines itself to just a few spots in the wintry waters of the far East.” There are just a few thousand of these birds in the wild. Another pic or two, shall we?

Credit: Robert tdc
Credit: R.A. Killmer

The steller’s may not roam too widely, but it is the monarch of all that it surveys. It’s an eagle, so it is a fearsome predator, and it will eat anything from its favorite foods like salmon to things rather further afield. To quote the San Deigo Zoo:

[T]he Steller’s sea-eagle can be flexible in its dietary habits and is an eater of all things protein—dead or alive—including puffins, fish, crabs, and even deer carcasses. 

[…]

Steller’s are also known to hunt while flying and take small mammals, fish, and seabirds by swooping down and catching them with their talons. 

Yowza. Here’s a tale told by David Attenborough:

That’s right, you witnessed the steller’s literally nab a whole other bird right out of the sky. The mind reels. Here’s another video, narrated by a delightfully droll bird enthusiast, showing the steller’s muscling every other bird in the area to one side when it wants to get food.

Some more excellent facts from Animalia:

In Russian, Steller’s sea eagle has been called morskoi orel (sea eagle), pestryi morskoi orel (mottled sea eagle) or beloplechii orlan (white-shouldered eagle). In Japanese, it is called ō-washi meaning large eagle or great eagle. In Korean, this eagle is called chamsuri translated as true eagle.

Steller’s sea eagles have very powerful feet covered in spicules; these are bumpy waves all along the bottom of their feet, which allow the birds to hold fish that may otherwise slip out of their grasp.

Steller’s sea eagles may walk boldly within a few feet of fishermen when both are capturing fish during winter, but only familiar ones they have encountered previously; if strangers are present the birds will behave warily and keep their distance.

Wow. Unfortunately, because this is the world we live in, the steller’s is a threatened species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) lists it as “vulnerable,” due to everything from pollution and general destruction of its environment to the threat of lead poisoning. Everyone threatening the steller’s sea eagle can kindly go to hell please. We are a planet with so many beautiful creatures like this and all we do is drive them into extinction and ruin. A world without the steller’s sea eagle would be a grim place indeed. Let’s end on a happy note: this picture.

Credit: GruenesMonster72