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Rare Steller's sea eagle makes history living in Maine for three months

This Steller's sea eagle has been flying around North America since 2020, thousands of miles from home, but has stayed in Maine for the longest amount of time.

BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — A bird so rare there are believed to be only 4,000 in the world has been living for the past three months in Maine's midcoast. The Steller's sea eagle, native to eastern Asia, was first seen in Maine right before the new year and immediately started attracting crowds of enthusiastic birdwatchers from all over the United States and Canada for this once-in-a-lifetime bird. 

Not only did birders flock to see it, but they also brought their business to the tourist region that is typically very slow and quiet during the winter months. 

Last week, there were reported sightings of the Steller's sea eagle, but there has not been a confirmed sighting since March 5. (Maine Audubon does not consider a sighting credible unless there is a photograph by which it can be verified.)

While the mayhem of the bird's first sightings in Maine has passed, people are still flocking to the area in hopes of catching a glimpse of this historic bird. 

It's historic because this is the first documented Steller's sea eagle ever in the continental United States. This particular bird has had a journey that spans thousands of miles and started a couple of years ago. 

This Steller's sea eagle, which some have nicknamed "Stella," was first spotted in August 2020 in Alaska. Months later, in March 2021, there was a possible sighting very far south in Texas. 

Then the bird was spotted in New Brunswick and Quebec before landing in Massachusetts on the Taunton River in December 2021 before it found its way to Maine at the end of 2021. 

The eagle was spotted in Maine more than any other location along its journey. The Steller's sea eagle is among the rarest raptors in the world. Their breeding grounds are in far eastern Russia, but each winter, many of the birds migrate from their breeding grounds to Japan, Korea, and China. 

Maine Audubon's naturalist Doug Hitchcox said it's not surprising that of all the places in Maine, the Steller's landed in the midcoast, where many raptors, especially bald eagles, have been thriving for years because of the plentiful food found there. 

While it is unknown why the Steller's sea eagle is so far from home, Hitchcox said one possible theory is it's prospecting, looking for a fertile habitat where it could start a satellite community. While in Maine, the Steller's sea eagle has been photographed hundreds of times, but so much is still unknown about it, including its sex. 

Hitchcox said, for the most part, birders have been very respectful of the bird and kept their distance. 

In January and February, birders filled the usually vacant hotels in Boothbay Harbor, frequented the restaurants, and lined the backroads in search of the elusive raptor.  

It was a welcome sight to business owners, and many in the midcoast hoped the Steller's sea eagle will stick around. 

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