Birdwatchers are flocking to a Massachusetts state park in hopes of getting a glimpse of a rare Steller’s sea eagle – an enormous raptor that is native to eastern Russia and parts of Asia.
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife said in a Facebook post that the bird was first spotted last week along the Taunton River – thousands of miles from its normal habitat. It’s unclear how it got there, but wildlife officials said it is likely that this is the same eagle that has been spotted in Alaska and Canada.
“No one knows for sure why it got lost in the first place. It could have been caught up in a storm blowing it off course, or simply a basic navigational error by the bird,” the post said. “It is a very lost bird, and no one is sure if it will ever return to its normal range.”
Steller’s sea eagles are some of the largest raptors in the world and can weigh up to 20 pounds with an 8-foot wingspan, the post said.
News of the rare bird’s arrival spread quickly in birding circles and people have posted almost 300 photos of it on eBird.org based at Cornell University.
Carol Molander, of Marion, Massachusetts, was on her way home on Monday when she got an alert about the eagle on a bird watching app, so she decided to go straight to Dighton Rock State Park to take a look.
“There were over 100 people there from all over New England,” she told CNN. “People were very excited and more than willing to share their scopes with people who didn’t have them. So we all got great views.”
She had her own spotting scope to see the bird, which was about a quarter mile away on the other side of the river.
“The beak is orange, bright orange, and it’s huge. It’s just a massive bird,” Molander said. “I was thinking this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m probably never going to see this bird again.”
Some bald eagles on nearby branches looked small by comparison.
Molander said she’s seen a number of rare birds in the past, but “this one is, by far the most extraordinary rarity I’ve seen.”
Steller’s sea eagles are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List of Threatened Species with only 3,600-4,670 mature individuals living in the wild.
Even though the bird is far from home, the weather should feel pretty familiar.
“Our climate is similar to that in its native wintering area so no reason to believe it couldn’t survive well here,” the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife wrote.