An immense and rare bird, the Steller’s Sea eagle is a true behemoth, weighing almost double that of the Bald eagle. It’s unmistakable with its handsome black and white plumage and tremendous orange beak. There are just 5,000 or so Steller’s Sea eagles left in the wild, so where do they live?
Steller’s Sea eagles have a very small distribution range. They breed only in eastern Russia, along the coasts and islands of the Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea. Most breed in the remote Kamchatka peninsula, on Sakhalin island, and in Amurland, at the Russia-China border.
In the winter, these eagles head south to the Kuril Islands, Russia, and Hokkaido island, Japan, particularly Shiretoko and Furen-ko. Some wintering birds end up as far south as Korea and Taiwan, though this has become exceptionally rare in the past two to three decades.
There are occasional sightings in northeast China, too. There have been rare cases of vagrants reaching North America, including one eagle, which completed a remarkable 4,500 km trip to Goliad County in Texas.
Read on to learn more about where this fascinating eagle lives.
Steller's Sea Eagles have an extremely small distribution range
The Steller’s Sea eagle’s breeding range covers most of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the coastal regions of the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea in Russia. The majority breed in Kamchatka.
Breeding grounds extend south to the lower reaches of the Amur River, Sakhalin, and the Shantar Islands, also in Russia. Birds once bred further south in Japan, north-east China, and off the coast of Korea, but this is exceptionally rare now.
The Steller’s Sea eagle’s breeding range includes some of the most isolated areas on the planet. Thus, seeing in the wild is a very rare event indeed.
In the winter, Steller’s Sea eagles disperse southwards to Kuril Islands, Russia, and Hokkaido island, Japan, particularly the Shiretoko and Furen-ko regions, where over 2,000 eagles winter each year. In addition, there are a few winter sightings in northeast China each year, and vagrants occasionally head to Taiwan and Korea.
A small flock of Steller's Sea Eagles, Hokkaido, Japan
Steller’s Sea eagles are rare vagrants to in-land China, where one was spotted near the capital of Beijing. They’ve also been spotted in southern Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and North America.
Despite being the heaviest eagle and one of the largest birds on the planet, Steller’s Sea eagles possess an engine so large and powerful that they’ve been tracked over distances of 4,500 miles.
One Steller’s Sea eagle shocked ornithologists, the general public, and bird enthusiasts alike when it clocked up 8,750 km in just 11 months. That’s greater than the entire width of the US and Europe combined.
But what’s more astounding is the zig-zag this adventurous bird took across North America. It was first sighted in Alaska - an exciting, albeit reasonably common event. Then, 2,500 miles east, it was sighted in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Massachusetts, and Maine.
However, the eagle’s odyssey continued, as it popped up months later in Coleto Creek Park and Reservoir in Goliad County, Texas. That’s a distance of 4,405 miles in a straight line.
Quite why the eagle traveled so far remains a mystery, though this is fairly common among large raptors.
Steller's Sea Eagle soaring through the skies, Shiretoko Peninsula, Shiretoko National Park, Hakkaydo, Japan
Steller’s Sea eagles do not breed or winter in the US. However, vagrants have been spotted in Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, and Texas. Vagrants to Alaska are not too uncommon due to Alaska’s close proximity to breeding grounds on the Bering Sea.
Steller’s Sea eagles do not breed or winter in Canada, but vagrants have been spotted across northern Canada and as far south as Nova Scotia, central Quebec, and New Brunswick.
Steller’s Sea eagles inhabit strips of the coast and river valleys. They nearly always nest near water and trees, as nests are typically built in tall open or dead trees.
Nests are sometimes constructed in the cliffs of river valleys or coastal cliffs. In one study, around 1/3rd of Steller’s Sea eagles nested along rivers, whereas the others nested on sea coasts and lakesides. All nests are positioned near fish-abundant water.
Three young Steller's Sea Eagles perched in a tree
With around 4,000 to 5,000 individuals in the wild, seeing a Steller’s Sea eagle is an exceptionally rare event. The only exception is Hokkaido, in Japan, where Steller’s Sea eagles flock to the same places yearly in Shiretoko and Furen-ko.
Vagrants sighted closer to civilization than the eagles’ remote breeding grounds cause quite a frenzy in the birdwatching world!
Hokkaido in Japan is the best place to spot Steller’s Sea eagles. Shiretoko and Furen-ko are home to around 2,000 or so each winter. You can spot them along the Nemuro Peninsula in the northeast.
Due to their small population size, it's pretty rare to see a Steller's Sea Eagle
Steller’s Sea eagles are diurnal and come out during the day. They hunt during the day and spend most of their time either perched or soaring in the sky on the lookout for prey.
Steller’s Sea eagles head south during winter. They don’t normally travel too far south, but some vagrants end up near Korea and Taiwan.
Steller's Sea Eagle, pictured in Hokkaido, Japan
In the winter, Steller’s Sea eagles travel to the Kuril Islands, Russia, and Hokkaido island, Japan. A few wintering birds may end up as far south as Korea and Taiwan, but this is rare.
In summer, Steller’s Sea eagles reside in their Russian breeding territory, the Kamchatka Peninsula, and the coastal regions of the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea.
They breed along the rivers and coastlines of the Kamchatka Peninsula, on Sakhalin island, and near the River Amur.
In the breeding season, Steller’s Sea eagles remain in their pairs and rarely flock together. The only exception is when salmon or other fish are abundant in their feeding grounds when eagles come together in small groups.
In the winter, eagles head to their wintering grounds alone and form notable flocks on Hokkaido Island in Japan.
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