- Camilla Veras Mota – @cavmota
- From BBC Brazil in Sao Paulo
Steller’s sea eagle (haliaetus pelagicus) is a huge bird: the wingspan can exceed two meters, and the weight – 9 kg.
It is a rare, vulnerable bird – whose population is estimated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature at 4,000 individuals – that lives in northern Asia, in the region between Siberia, Russia, Japan and China.
Although one of them is away from home for one and a half years. away, about 8,000 kilometers away.
First sighted in the US state of Alaska in August 2020, the eagle has already been seen in Texas in the south of the country, then in Nova Scotia, Canada and, most recently, in Massachusetts and Maine in the northeast of the United States Has been observed. , With a white patch on the left wing that makes it easy to identify, it has become something of a local celebrity.
Since late December, when it became more frequent, researchers and bird watchers have been taking to the road and driving for hours in hopes of seeing it through their scopes and binoculars.
Internet groups, some with over 1,000 participants, send out daily alerts about the eagle’s whereabouts. At this point, she has already become a comic book character and T-shirt print.
“Nobody thought they’d see a bird like this in America,” says Nicholas Lund, who works for the conservation organization Maine. People are driving all night to come here. Maybe it’s the decade of the bird watching world. event.” Audubon and Hai, he is also an avid bird watcher, with more than 1,500 different species in his “course”.
On December 20, he was in the middle of a “Christmas bird count” (a kind of census conducted by volunteers) with other colleagues when he learned that Steller’s sea eagle was in neighboring Massachusetts, from where he was two hours away. .
For more than a year, Lund was fascinated by the saga of the eagle, which periodically disappeared and reappeared somewhere on the map of North America. If it weren’t for pandemic restrictions, he would have moved to Canada months earlier, when the bird was sighted in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Upon learning that he had finally crossed the border, he and his friends had no doubts:
“We left what we were doing and hit the road.”
Hours later, in the Dietton Rock State Park area, he found himself in a crowd of about 200 people.
“That part of Massachusetts [e arredores] Quite populous, so there are bird watchers from all over New England [área compreende 6 Estados no nordeste dos EUA], from New York, from Boston… All these people gathered in this park. It felt like a music festival. There was no place to park, people were dancing, they were excited, it was a real phenomenon.”
Since then, Lund believes that thousands of people have managed to find a “lost” Steller’s sea eagle in North America.
One of them was Gregory LeClair, an ecology student at the University of Maine, who, after two unsuccessful attempts, finally managed to see the animal on January 12. By then, the bird had already “climbed” in the Boothbay Harbor area in the state of Maine—where it has been observed, in fact, for days to come.
“While we were parking, I could already see people with binoculars. I approached, asked what they were seeing and they told me: ‘The eagle is right there, on the other side of the harbor, behind those trees. ‘. This time it was so easy, we arrived and there she was, presenting a show for everyone.”
He drove about an hour and a half with his two-year-old daughter and, despite his young age, has gone on numerous trips from kayaking to bird excursions to explore nature with his parents.
“As a biologist, someone who values nature … I love to share it with my daughter,” says LeClaire, who researches reptiles and amphibians and works with endangered turtles. Is.
“While trying to get our daughter excited along the way, we kept repeating: ‘We’re going to see the eagle!’ And she kept repeating: ‘Eagle! Eagle!
A week later, she still recognizes the image of the little bird when it appears on her computer and cell phone screens. “Now he has learned to speak his full name – Stellar’s sea eagle (stellar sea eagle in English)”, he says.
Why did she fly so far?
It’s not unusual for birds to “get lost” and stray from their normal flight path, explains Brian Olson, a professor of ornithology at the University of Maine’s School of Biology and Ecology.
The phenomenon has a technical name, which includes – they are “wandering” birds. And this can happen for a variety of reasons: from extreme weather events, such as hurricanes or strong winds, that “throw” and disorient birds on other routes, to malfunctions in birds’ navigation systems—in other words. In the U.S., it seems as though some were born with a broken internal compass, and instead of flying over the areas where your species usually migrates, they go in the opposite direction.
Some birds, especially smaller ones, also accidentally move away from the flock and end up in a distant location. And it has already happened that, in these miscalculations, they discover new habitat possibilities for their respective species and begin the process of colonization of a new area.
“Becoming a wanderer is usually a combination of the animal’s own behavior and random external factors. So we will probably never know what combination it was that brought the eagle here,” Olsen says.
“But once out of their normal range, the bird notices. Wandering birds move more because they know they’re not exactly where they were trying to reach.”
Although the occurrence of rare birds in the region is something that probably only happens every three or five years, biologists continue, the case of Steller’s sea eagle is special.
“This case is particularly rare because it is not a bird with a long migration route – the more birds move, the more likely they are to end up elsewhere. Also large, this is an impressively sized bird. “
Olsen recalls that a few years ago, in 2018, another bird also mobilized the birdwatching community in Maine.
A black falcon, which was endemic to Central and South America, ended up there and, after living in the state for months, was rescued after being injured in a snowstorm – one seen in the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. tropical bird.
Many wandering birds, by the way, die prematurely because they are subject to a range of threats – the climate in the area where they settled can be very different from their habit, for example, or they may have difficulty Can find food.
In the case of Steller’s sea eagle, however, the odds are in their favor. The climate of the region in which it is now is relatively similar to that of its natural habitat. It has been observed several times eating fish, which indicates that it is managing to find food, and has been seen in the company of bald eagles, the most numerous species of eagle in the region.
“We know she’s been eating, she’s lived this whole time, about a year and a half, looks healthy… no one knows what the future holds, but she might stick around – we’re all in secret are rooted for it,” says Nicolas Lund, who also owns the profile the birdist No Twitter.
He recalls that on the other side of the country, there are records of mating between Steller’s sea eagles and bald eagles in Alaska, where Asian prey was found nearly two decades ago. “She can find a mate and stick around, we’re all rooting for her—that would be crazy.”
lund made a interactive map With all the appearances of a “lost” eagle. For anyone considering taking the road (or plane) to try to see it, he recommends Main Audubon, the conservation organization in which it operates, has issued daily reports and alerts on the bird’s whereabouts.
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