The Steller’s Sea-Eagle that visited us here in Maine for over two months until March 4, 2022 reappeared on the north shore of Nova Scotia in April and then moved on to Newfoundland. Using eBird records, I’ll take a look at the sightings of this magnificent bird in Maine while it graced us with its presence.
Steller’s Sea-Eagle is not a common bird to start with. The current population is estimated to lie between 4,600-5,100 individuals with 1,830-1,900 breeding pairs. They are found in the Far East, nesting on the shores of the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. They winter in Korea, Japan and southeastern Russia (Ussuriland).
There are 79 eBird records for Steller’s Sea-Eagle in Alaska. But the one we hosted in Maine was a real oddity. It has been wandering in eastern North America for well over a year. There is even a single sighting in Texas that may have been the same bird.
After visiting Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia earlier in 2021, the eagle put in an appearance in inland Massachusetts in mid-December. It disappeared just before Christmas. Birders throughout the Northeast were keen to know where it would appear next.
On December 30, the Steller’s Sea-Eagle was spotted at Five Islands in Georgetown by Linda Tharp, a local resident. The chase was on. Hordes of birders descended on Five Islands the following day and most got to see the bird. Nearly as many birders visited the area on New Year’s Day.
Curious to know how many people saw the Steller’s Sea-Eagle (a life bird for most everyone, I’m sure), I requested the eBird data for Maine. The histogram below shows the number of eBird records of the sea-eagle through the end of February. There are records of the eagle for 19 dates. Some of those dates had only a few sightings so their bar is not high enough to distinguish on the graph.
There are 1,198 eBird records of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle in Maine. However, we have to tweak this total a bit. Some people got to see the eagle twice to as many as five times (Figure 3). Correcting for multiple observations, I found that 1,024 birders got to see the Steller’s Sea-Eagle in Maine based on eBird records.
This total is conservative for several reasons. There are a significant number of serious birders who do not use eBird. When I went on January 1 to see the bird, I noticed lots of families there with young kids. Certainly, most of those kids do not have eBird accounts. Finally, there were people who were there because it was a happening, not because of an abiding interest in birds. They surely did not have eBird accounts
So, we can be sure that well over 1,024 people got to see the Steller’s Sea-Eagle in Maine. If we add the number of eBirders in other states or provinces who saw the same bird, we get 1,263 birders. That includes 12 in New Brunswick, 45 in Nova Scotia (not counting the April, 2022 sightings, which I do not have), 52 in Quebec, 129 in Massachusetts and one in Texas.
Finally, let’s look at the total of all the eBird records for the six North American regions where our peregrinating sea-eagle has been seen. That total is 1,545 records. The sum of all the Steller’s Sea-Eagle records in eBird is 4,445. That means that one bird accounts for 34.7% of all the eBird records. Country-wise, Japan has the most Steller’s Sea-Eagle records with 2,074 eBird entries. The U.S. is in second-place, mainly due to a single bird! Russia has only 374 eBird records but I am sure that is because Russian ornithologists and birders haven’t embraced eBird like birders in many other countries.
It would have been fun to determine how many of the birders who saw the Georgetown bird came from out of state. Understandably, eBird anonymizes the records sent to researchers for the sake of confidentiality, so it is not possible to know where a birder is from based only on the unique observer code that eBird assigns.