In this Dec. 31, 2021, photo provided by Zachary Holderby, a Steller’s sea eagle is seen off Georgetown. The rare eagle has took up residence thousands of miles from its home range, delighting bird lovers and baffling scientists. Zachary Holderby, Downeast Audubon via AP

We are passing through the time of the year when, in the last two years, the greater birding world was all aflutter because a Steller’s sea eagle was seen in Georgetown. Many people have been asking us this winter, and increasingly so as we pass through the anniversary of its sightings: Do we think it will come back, or where exactly it is now.

If you’ve missed this epic story the last two winters, here is a quick synopsis: The Steller’s sea eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world, and has a small population of just a few thousand individuals that live around the Sea of Okhotsk, spending its summers in eastern Siberia and winters close to northern Japan. These sea eagles very rarely wander into western North America, with most previous sightings occurring in coastal Alaska. In August 2020, one was photographed in Alaska but surprisingly far east, about 160 miles northeast of Anchorage.

A 2015 photo of a Steller’s sea eagle in Pittsburgh. Gene Puskar/Associated Press

Fast forward to March of 2021 and one, apparently the same individual, was photographed in Texas. That was a one-day-wonder until that summer when the sea eagle was found in Nova Scotia. At this point enough photos were taken to match individual feathers to the one photographed in Alaska, connecting these as the same bird.

After moving around the Canadian Maritimes, the sea eagle made a quick jaunt down to Massachusetts before (unsurprisingly) deciding to leave and come back north to spend the winter along Maine’s coast. Thousands of people enjoyed seeing that bird from Dec. 30 to March 5, before it flew north, through Nova Scotia, and spent the summer of 2022 in eastern Newfoundland.

Last winter the Steller’s sea eagle continued to surprise everyone by returning to the same area in Sagadahoc County where it had spent much of the previous winter, but was only definitely seen for a couple of weeks, between Feb. 4 and Feb. 14. By spring it had returned to Newfoundland, also visiting some of its 2022 summer hangouts.

However, Maine birders started getting excited this January when the Steller’s repositioned to western Newfoundland, in the Codroy Valley, where it was being seen at least through the end of January.


So that is where it is now (unless it has come to Maine since writing this) but that gets us to everyone’s follow up question: “why isn’t it back this year?”

This bird’s site fidelity is pretty amazing, returning to the same river in Georgetown two years in a row, but that is not unprecedented in vagrants. Over the years, Maine has had a few rare birds that came back multiple years, including a famous summer resident, a red-billed tropicbird that returned to Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge (and other nearby islands) for 17 consecutive years. A pair of Western grebes spent (coincidentally) 17 winters off Georgetown. It seems these birds adopted the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality while here, but it certainly makes you wonder where they went when they weren’t already hundreds or thousands of miles off-course.

For the sea eagle, we can assume the largest factor that determines where it decides to go is food availability. Similar to our bald eagles, this species is primarily a fish eater but will also scavenge on birds like ducks or gulls. If it found a reliable source of food in the Codroy Valley, then why spend the energy flying all the way back to mid-coast Maine? Especially since the bird is not attempting to breed here, there is little reason for it to unnecessarily exert the extra energy.

We recently passed the fifth anniversary of the unfortunate demise of the great black hawk that had taken up residence in Deering Oaks in Portland (and typically is only seen in the neotropics from northern Mexico to northern Argentina). I do think it is important for us to remember that bird, and recognize that while we sensationalize these vagrants, many of them are effectively removing themselves from the gene pool. These birds do arrive here on their own volition and provide us with a unique opportunity to view and appreciate them, and hopefully be motivated to help our natural world after these reminders of its wonders.

Have you got a nature question of your own? Email questions to and visit to learn more about birding, native plants, and programs and events focusing on Maine wildlife and habitat. Doug and other naturalists lead free bird walks on Thursday mornings, 8 to 10 am, at the Gilsland Farm Audubon Sanctuary in Falmouth.

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