Steller's sea eagle sighting in N.S gets stellar reaction from bird watchers

·3 min read
The Steller’s sea-eagle, native to eastern Russia,  was spotted in Windsor, N.S.  (Jason Dain - image credit)
The Steller’s sea-eagle, native to eastern Russia, was spotted in Windsor, N.S. (Jason Dain - image credit)

One of the rarest and most impressive birds of prey in the world has been spotted in Windsor, N.S.

The Steller's sea eagle, which is native to eastern Russia, seems to be making a tour of North America, having previously been spotted in Alaska, Texas, New Brunswick and Quebec.

Phil Taylor, a biology professor at Acadia University, was the first person to spot the bird in Nova Scotia.

He said he had just finished meeting a friend at a Windsor pub and was looking out over the tidal flats when he saw the eagle on the mud.

"I immediately knew what it was because there has been a bird, presumably the same bird, that has been sort of traveling around North America for the past year and a half," Taylor said.

Distinctive looking

With a giant yellow beak, large white patches on its wings and a big white tail, Taylor said the bird is very distinctive.

It isn't known if the bird is male or female, he said, but it is an adult and is bigger than the bald eagles that are more common in the area.

Taylor said his first instinct was to document the sighting but by the time he went to his car to grab his camera and returned, the bird had gone.

Before heading off to look for the bird again, he said he posted the sighting to a birding group on the Discord app on his phone.

That's when wildlife photographer Jason Dain got involved.

Dain told CBC's Maritime Noon he was working from home in his pyjamas, as usual, when he saw the message and immediately got dressed in case he had to dash out of the house.

When Taylor posted that he had found the bird again, Dain grabbed his camera and drove 45 minutes to get to the location.

Gobsmacked

Having seen around 1,200 bird species worldwide, Dain said observing the Steller's sea eagle now ranks in his top five sightings.

"Mind blown, gobsmacked ... there's all kinds of words," he said, describing the experience. "It's a dream bird for a birder or to see, especially here in Nova Scotia."

It was especially gratifying, he said, because earlier this year he had spent time in Campbellton, N.B., along with people from as far away as Toronto, watching the river in the hope of spotting the eagle, with no luck.

As to why the bird chose to come to Nova Scotia, the two men said there could be several reasons, including the habitat, the weather or just random chance.

Taylor said it is likely the bird is "wandering around" looking for places to find food.

He said when it saw an area like the Avon River with exposed mud flats it probably decided to settle for a while looking for fish and other birds to eat.

According to the San Diego Zoo website, Steller's sea eagles mainly eat salmon and trout, but will feast on whatever protein they find — living or dead.

Unique markings

Both men said they are certain it is the same bird that has been spotted in other places on the continent as it has distinctive markings that can be seen in the photographs from various locations.

The rare bird has attracted considerable attention already and Taylor said there were dozens of people looking for it when he was in the area on Wednesday.

With borders reopening and word getting out on social media, he said he is expecting an influx of bird watchers to the area.

Like many visitors to Nova Scotia, Taylor thinks the bird will choose to stay a bit longer and enjoy all the province has to offer.

"Maybe if we're lucky, it'll be with us another couple of weeks," he said. "It could spend the winter here. Who knows? It was seen again this morning, so it is going to hopefully stick around for a little bit."

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