The National Aviary is closed on Tuesday, March 20.

The National Aviary is closed on Tuesday, March 20.

Steller's Sea-Eagle

Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus)


A fierce, impressive raptor with chocolate-brown plumage and striking white shoulders and tail.  The Steller’s Sea Eagle averages 13-20 lbs (with females being roughly a third larger than males), and measures almost four feet from head to tail.  With its deep, strongly arched bill and massive yellow feet, it’s no wonder the Japanese call this bird ¬O-washi (The Great Eagle).

When it comes to birds, it’s hard to answer the question, “Who is biggest?”  One bird might weigh the most, while another has a greater wingspan, and another still is longer nose-to-tail.  Even so, Steller’s Sea Eagles on average outweigh both the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) and the Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle (Pithocophagia jefferyi), while its wingspan is second only to its near-cousin the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) (Steller’s = 7 feet, White-tailed = 7.2 feet).  Not surprisingly, an adult Steller’s Sea Eagle has no natural predators.

Despite its impressive proportions, the Steller’s Sea Eagle is vulnerable to changes in its habitat and food supplies.  Such a huge eagle needs an equally huge territory.  The Steller’s Sea Eagle is found only along the coastal Kamchatka Pensinsula and the northern most parts of Japan, which limits the size of its population. This relatively small range also makes the Steller’s particularly sensitive to habitat loss caused by climate change.  Birds adapted to near-arctic environments have difficulty dealing with rising temperatures, and shifts in ocean currents due to warming waters mean less access to the fish so important to the Steller’s Sea Eagle’s diet.  The latter is especially crucial during their all-important breeding season, when large quantities of food must be available to feed their growing offspring.

The Steller’s Sea Eagle is legally protected in Russia, Japan, China, and South Korea.  Conservation measures include improvements in preventing industrial and petro-chemical pollution of rivers, and educating local hunters about the risks of over-fishing and lead-shot in carcasses. These protections are an important step in securing the future of this species, but there is more work to be done. Buying sustainable seafood is one thing you can do to help save these impressive birds.