RARE BIRD ALERT: STELLER’S SEA-EAGLE

For Live Updates:
There is a Maine Rare Bird Alert group on GroupMe, which is focused solely on rare bird sightings.  (Instructions on how to join here.)
There is also a GroupMe group called Maine Steller’s Sea-Eagle Discussion Group which was created for eagle-searchers to share additional information, have discussions, and  cover other questions. Please be advised these are open largely un-moderated group text-messaging apps!

LATEST UPDATE: 25 Jan 2022 – There were no confirmed sightings of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle today, despite many people out searching in the Boothbay area (and beyond).

ONLINE PROGRAM FEB 2: Join Doug Hitchcox and Nick Lund for a free online webinar on Wednesday, February 2, at 6:30 pm (EST). They will talk about the Steller’s Sea-Eagle, share natural history and information about this bird and its movements, talk about vagrants, and answer your questions. REGISTER HERE
SHARE YOUR STORIES! We’ve created a public online “kudoboard” (like a guest book or tribute page) and we invite you to share your stories of looking for, learning about, and seeing the Steller’s Sea-Eagle. If you have a great Steller story to share, please add it to the board (not here on Facebook!). Note: It’s a moderated page so you may have to wait to see your story appear.To share, go to this link and “Add to Board”:
https://maineaudubon.kudoboard.com/…/stellers-sea-eagle

PREVIOUS SIGHTINGS:
Jan. 24 | Jan. 22 | Jan. 21 | Jan. 20 | Jan. 19 | Jan. 18 | Jan. 16 | Jan. 15 | Jan. 14Jan. 13 | Jan. 12 | Jan. 11 | Jan. 9 | Jan. 8 | Jan. 7 | Jan. 6 | Jan. 4 | Jan. 3 | Jan. 2 | Jan. 1 | Dec. 31 | Dec. 30 (first Maine sighting)

Frequently Asked Questions


UPDATE: 24 Jan 2022 – The Steller’s Sea Eagle returned to the West Boothbay area on Jan 23 and continues in the area on Monday, Jan 24.  It was photographed around 10:30AM around Breakwater Road in the Sprucewold area, south of Boothbay Harbor, but has flown from there. It was last reported flying west over the Indiantown Preserve, headed across the Sheepscot River. Join the GroupMe groups above for the latest information.

UPDATE: 22 Jan 2022 – The Steller’s Sea Eagle continued throughout the day, seen from Fort William Henry on the west side of Pemaquid Point and the Pemaquid Seafood Company.

UPDATE: 21 Jan 2022 – Good news! The Steller’s Sea Eagle was re-found today after a two day absence. Birder Sarah Buckley spotted the bird at 12:15PM from Fort William Henry on the west side of Pemaquid Point, just east of where the bird has been for the past few weeks. Many birders saw it from the Fort today, and some others saw it from the Pemaquid Seafood Company. If the eagle remains in the same area tomorrow, the Fort is the best place to look and park.

Please continue to be respectful of the bird and do not approach too closely. Many birders are on their way to view this bird, and it will flush easily. Good birding!
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UPDATE: 20 Jan 2022 – There were no confirmed sightings of the the Steller’s Sea-Eagle today, Thursday, Jan. 20, meaning that the Steller’s Sea Eagle has not been sighted since Tuesday, Jan. 18. It’s possible that the bird is still in the area, or nearby. The bird was not seen for two or three days earlier this month before it was re-found in West Boothbay, just across the mouth of the Sheepscot. However during that time the bird was seen to the west, at the edge of Casco Bay at Harpswell, though the birding world didn’t learn about that sighting until days later.

Or, it’s possible that the eagle has moved further, as it has several times before. Over the course of this past summer it moved between the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec and New Brunswick, the northern coast of Nova Scotia, and southern Massachusetts before coming to Maine. It is capable of covering lots of ground and seems to have a wandering spirit. It may be anywhere.

The one thing all its east coast sightings have in common is that they are at river mouths. The bird seems to prefer areas with many small islands close to, but not directly along, the coast. That describes many places in Maine and in New England and the Maritime Provinces, but it is probably not worth looking inland. If you find yourself along a river near the coast, please keep and eye out and a camera handy.

UPDATE: 19 Jan 2022 – There were no confirmed sightings of the the Steller’s Sea-Eagle today, January 19. There are  reports of the bird in the inner harbor as seen from Brady’s Restaurant around noon, but these reports have not been confirmed and no photos were taken. If the Steller’s Sea Eagle is still in the area, the best vantage points continue to be the closed Maine State Aquarium, the  Spruce Point vicinity, and the Southport Bridge.

Please continue to be mindful of private property if you are searching the area. If you are viewing from the Spruce Point Inn please DO NOT park along the road, and instead either in the parking lot – or view from the Aquarium parking lot.
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UPDATE: 18 Jan 2022 – There were no confirmed sightings of the the Steller’s Sea-Eagle on January 17, but a powerful storm kept many birders away from the area and may have kept the bird hunkered down. [**Update** In fact the bird was seen on the 17th, at 2pm along the Samoset Rd. in Boothbay.] However, the bird has been reported on Tuesday, Jan 18 flying through West Boothbay Harbor, as seen  from the Spruce Point vicinity and the Southport Bridge. If you are viewing from the Spruce Point Inn please DO NOT park along the road, and instead either in the parking lot – or view from the Aquarium parking lot.
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UPDATE: 16 Jan 2022 –The Steller’s Sea-Eagle continues in the West Boothbay Harbor area. It was seen after first light along Pooler Road (private – do not enter), and was seen in flight during the morning in the areas of the the closed Maine State Aquarium, the Spruce Point vicinity, and the Southport Bridge. If you are viewing from the Spruce Point Inn please DO NOT park along the road, and instead either in the parking lot – or view from the Aquarium parking lot.

The weather is supposed to be wet and windy on Jan. 17, so if it is possible to hold off your search until later in the week please do so. At all times make sure you are out of the way of plow trucks, are not blocking roads or driveways, and are not entering private property, including lawns.
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UPDATE: 15 Jan 2022 –The Steller’s Sea-Eagle continues in the West Boothbay Harbor area. It was seen well between about 8:30AM and 11:45AM as it perched in a tree near the Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club. It flew off just before noon, headed northwest. There were no confirmed sightings for the rest of the day. Additional vantage points over the past few days include the closed Maine State Aquarium, the Spruce Point vicinity, and the Southport Bridge.

For birders coming this weekend to see the bird, please be mindful of private property and congestion caused by a large number of cars parking on roads. The Maine State Aquarium has been a good place to park for many searchers. Also please be prepared for the weather. Good birding!
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UPDATE: 14 Jan 2022 –The Steller’s Sea-Eagle continues in the West Boothbay Harbor area. It was first spotted flying past the closed Maine State Aquarium at 9:47AM, and was seen in the Spruce Point vicinity, including as viewed from the Spruce Point Inn. It was last seen at 4:03PM flying north over the Southport Bridge, a familiar route it has taken at that time of the afternoon for several days.

For birders coming this weekend to see the bird, please be mindful of private property and congestion caused by a large number of cars parking on roads. The Maine State Aquarium has been a good place to park for many searchers. Also please note that the temperatures are expected to dip into the single digits, so be prepared. Good luck!
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UPDATE: 13 Jan 2022: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle was again viewed throughout the day in the West Boothbay Harbor area. The bird moves about during the day, but the two most successful points continue to be the closed Maine State Aquarium and Southport Bridge. It was last seen south of the West Boothbay peninsula perching on Mouse Island.
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UPDATE – 12 Jan 2022: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle was spotted several times today in the West Boothbay Harbor area. It was seen leaving a stand of pines along the northeastern shore of Southport Island at 7:15AM. It was spotted throughout the day from several points including on pines on several shorelines visible from the closed Maine State Aquarium and from the Southport Bridge. It was last seen from the walkway across the bridge around 4PM.
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 UPDATE – 11 Jan 2022: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle was spotted several times today in the Boothbay Harbor area. It was first seen at 8:15AM in pines along Birch Rd. on the west side of Linekin Bay in the area called Sprucewold. It was reported flying east across Linekin Bay. It was later reported from the the Maine State Aquarium (currently closed). The final report was, “at last light,” the bird flew it a pine tree “on the Southport [Island] shore of Townsend Gut,” just west of West Boothbay. The bird was reportedly only visible from private property, but will likely be in the same general area tomorrow.

Interesting Development: Caught in the backlog of emails and messages to Maine Audubon in the wake of the Steller’s Sea Eagle appearance, Maine Audubon staff recently found an email from January 3rd, 2022 with images of the bird along Basin Point Rd. in Harpswell. This site, in Cumberland County on the eastern edge of Casco Bay, is significantly further west than the Georgetown / Boothbay Harbor area, and significantly adds to our understanding on where the bird may be wandering on days that it is not seen elsewhere.
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9 Jan 2022: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle was reported again today, first seen at 7:10AM from the the Maine State Aquarium (currently closed) “heading towards Southport against the wind.” It was found again, perched on Southport Island, across from Mouse Island, at 8:50AM but was only seen for a short time before it was flushed by a passing non-birder. Last seen flying northeast, up Townsends Gut, toward Decker’s Cove, shortly after 9:00AM. There was also a report from ~9:30AM of it flying past the Southport Bridge. Despite lots of effort from birders spreading out across the region, there were no other sightings today.
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UPDATE – 8 Jan 2022: First report of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle today was as it flew past the Public Boat Ramp on Landing Road (https://goo.gl/maps/Nvaab5M3CaBYcmbRA) in West Boothbay Harbor at 7:15AM. The eagle was seen flying south, and around 8:45AM it was found perched at the end of Pooler Road (https://goo.gl/maps/Ke9sv2qHaxpdta6o8). Many people were able to see it from roads to the southwest, like Pine Cliff Road, but as people approached Pooler on foot, the eagle was flushed by 9:10AM – a good reminder that people should give this bird plenty of space to avoid flushing it, which causes it to expend energy unnecessarily but also ruins the opportunity for many others trying to see the bird. The eagle settled across the harbor, here: https://goo.gl/maps/FFkWPTHJhVrR3CRS6 and was visible from the Maine State Aquarium (currently closed). By 9:40AM it moved back towards Pooler Road but was shortly after (9:58AM) reported as circling over Boothbay Harbor with ravens, where it was seen flying off towards the east. There were some other possible sightings through the morning, including a second-hand report from Barrett Park around 11:10AM, although the certainty of these, based on reports, seems less than 100%. No other confirmed sightings came in this afternoon.

Tips for Tomorrow: The lack of reports today, and them all coming from a new area, doesn’t help build a pattern that can be helpful. We’ve been suspecting it is roosting somewhere up the Sheepscot River, and the morning sighting of it flying through Townsend Gut seems to suggest that too. It is anyone’s guess, but I’d recommend starting early in an area with visibility towards Barters or MacMahon islands. Spreading out around Boothbay Harbor, or even back towards Five Islands (where it was originally found), or east towards the Damariscotta River (where it was last seen flying today) ought to increase the odds that someone finds it and can get the word out. The Maine Rare Bird Alert GroupMe is the best place for quick and timely updates. Instructions for joining that GroupMe can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/MaineRBAGroupMeRules

Side note: An immature Golden Eagle was spotted by Melissa Roach at 10:30AM, soaring south of Factory Cove in Boothbay. I’m pretty sure this is the first time three species of eagles have been seen at the same time in one place anywhere in the country! Which is pretty neat.
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UPDATE – 7 Jan 2022: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle was found again today, by John Putrino, reported via his Instagram Live stream. He found it in the same area it was seen yesterday, by Thorpe Preserve in West Boothbay Harbor. Parking looks limited and the snow is going to make that even more challenging, but it appears the best place to park is at the Public Boat Ramp on Landing Road (https://goo.gl/maps/Nvaab5M3CaBYcmbRA). Despite a few folks braving the snowy weather, no one was able to relocate the eagle after this initial sighting.
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UPDATE – 6 Jan 2022: After several days without confirmed sightings, Kaili Morgan photographed the Steller’s Sea-Eagle from private property in West Boothbay, around 4pm. The bird was reportedly “active, seen on a beach and in pine trees.” She said she watched it fly off to the northwest, in the direction of Barters Island (following the same pattern that was seen when it was viewed around Five Islands – presumably roosting somewhere up the Sheepscot River.) McKown Point Road, the road to West Boothbay Harbor, is very narrow and Kaili expressed concerned about traffic and congestion (especially because of the nearby Coast Guard Station). Do not park in areas that will block the road.

Tips for Tomorrow (1/7/22): Please beware of the Winter Weather Advisory in effect for January 7: Snow, mainly before 4pm. Patchy blowing snow after noon. High near 32. Northeast wind 10 to 15 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 7 inches possible. Drive safe and do not park in any area that may disrupt plow service. Below is a map Charles Duncan shared in the GroupMe showing the areas the Steller’s Sea-Eagle was seen last weekend (Five Island) compared to the sighting today. These sightings are geographically close as the eagle flies, but a challenging area to bird and access. Do not trespass!

Map from Charles Duncan
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UPDATE – 4 & 5 Jan 2022: No sightings throughout the day.
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UPDATE – 3 Jan 2022: A confusing day for reports. There are very credible reports from Five Islands in the morning, but contradictory messaging on the GroupMe caused some confusion as photos of what appeared to be the eagle were found to actually be a bizarrely eagle-like part of a tree (with white in all the right places!) Given the lack of physical evidence (photo, video, etc.) we were calling this “not confirmed” but that doesn’t dismiss the sight-only reports that came from today.

Tips for Tomorrow: People should probably keep watch at the Five Islands wharf, Gray Havens Inn, and Reid State Park, but expanding the search may help. Here is a map of recent Bald Eagle sightings in the area, which could give hints of where to look for the Steller’s: Recent BAEA map
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UPDATE – 2 Jan 2022: First reports from today were at 8:30AM, of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle perched on the north end of Wood Island, visible from the Gray Havens Inn on Seguinland Road (map: https://goo.gl/maps/SpUdVcRDT5L7K7Cd8). The bird flew north towards the Five Island wharf around 9:00AM, which caused a bit of confusion as people drove around to relocate it, but it was eventually found sitting on a rock outcropping in front of Pratt’s Island, which is located on the other side of the river. There is very little public access from Southport Island (the other side of the river) so all views were still had distantly from Gray Havens Inn, but fortunately birders with scopes were helpful and shared the views. There were reports it may have been flushed by a kayaker (and anyone attempting to approach by boat should make sure to give this bird plenty of space) but it relocated around 10:50AM back to Wood Island, right in front of the inn where most people were already looking. It moved around a bit from there, but remained visible from the inn through the afternoon. Shortly after 2PM it was seen flying west, in pursuit of a Bald Eagle carrying prey, “over 5 Islands Road, near the little ponds at Seguinland Road” but had returned towards Gray Havens by 3:00PM. Last reports from the day were just after 3:30PM when the bird had apparently been flying between Gray Havens and Reid State Park; last seen flying north.

DO NOT PARK “ON” SEGUINLAND ROAD – There have been two reports today of a sheriff coming by to ask people not to park “on” that road, with one threat of bringing a tow truck. There is plenty of parking at Reid State Park, which is just 1.8 miles south of the inn. *Updating this to specify parking “on” the road.* In the GroupMe Emily Stanislawski clarified: “he had said as long as you were parked all the way in the gravel on the side of the road, that was fine. Just not on the pavement, and stick to only one side. He wanted to be sure that the flow of traffic was not blocked.”

***PLEASE NOTE *** The local lobstermen are bringing in their traps and need to be able to maneuver long trailers down to the wharf. Please be mindful of the folks using this area for their livelihoods; give them the space needed and the right-of-way for accessing the wharf. We’ve heard that there was increased frustration from lobstermen on Saturday so everyone needs to do better to keep this a friendly place for visitors.
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UPDATE – 1 Jan 2022: The Steller’s Sea-Eagle is back today, first reported from the Five Islands wharf at 9:07AM. The bird continued to be seen here through the morning, moving a bit, but around 10:45AM had moved to the back side of Mink Island, which isn’t visible from any publicly accessible land. A lobsterman has been offering rides in his boat for small groups,  at no charge. Sometime around 1:00PM the bird moved south to Wood Island, where it was seen well by boat but also visible from land at the Gray Havens Inn on Seguinland Road (map: https://goo.gl/maps/SpUdVcRDT5L7K7Cd8) where the owners are “very welcoming” but reports emphasized being careful of where you park as the owners don’t want the lawn torn up (recent warm weather is making everything muddy). DO NOT go to The Mooring Bed & Breakfast, where the owners do not want birders on their property (though out-of-state birders may want to consider booking a room there!). The last report from today was that the eagle was seen flying north (towards Five Islands) around 3:00PM. This is around the time it left the area on the 30th, and only ~1h 20m earlier than yesterday, so it is presumably going to roost somewhere up the Sheepscot River.

Tips for Tomorrow: Again, please be very respectful of private property (DO NOT TRESPASS) and be aware of parking and not blocking narrow roads. Temps will be dropping tomorrow afternoon so beware of icing on the roads – there was one accident reported along Rt 127 today. A pattern is slowly emerging but with only a couple days (and the bird’s freewill) it is hard to say exactly where it’ll be tomorrow, but it moves into the Five Islands area around 9AM each day, apparently coming in from the north, then slowly island hopping until early afternoon before moving down river. It is hard to tell if this might be related to the tide or food availability as little foraging has been observed/reported (don’t worry, it has survived this long in North America, it is clearly eating something sometime), but it’ll be interesting to watch how these movements change over time and if there is any correlation to the tide cycle (and food availability).
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Dec. 31, 2021 Update

The Steller’s Sea-Eagle was first found today perched on the south end of MacMahan Island at 8:20AM and slowly worked its way south to Crow Island around 9:10AM. It worked the trees back-and-forth from Crow Island to Gotts Cove (also labeled Golf Cove on Google Maps) but it should be noted that the vantage points here are all on private property and birders were asked to leave. Fortunately the bird started moving around at at 10:30AM was visible from the Five Islands wharf (43.8238825,-69.70953). It moved around the islands, often perching in one spot for 30+ minutes, and sometimes landing in areas where it wasn’t visible from the mainland. Around 1:40PM the bird flew south, following the shoreline down until we couldn’t follow it any longer – it was amazingly still visible (with a scope, and arguably still identifiable) even as it passed Outer Head, nearly 3 miles from the wharf! Many kudos to the birders who picked it up as it passed Reid State Park and settled on The Black Rocks (43.760423, -69.722549). It moved around a bit on these rocks, tussling with a Bald Eagle at one point, but remained there until the park closed, just after 4:00PM. The final report of the day was at 4:20PM, when the bird was seen flying back up the Sheepscot, towards Five Islands.

Many thanks to Lance Benner for making this map of the locations the eagle moved to today:

Tips for Tomorrow: First, please do not trespass. Although we don’t have enough data to establish a pattern, this bird clearly favors the Five Islands (esp Crow Island) so I suspect that being patient there (which is some of the only public access, and Ledgemere Preserve) is your best bet for seeing this bird. Parking is very limited so please be mindful of where you are parking and how much space you’re taking. The Town Parking Lot (see below) is still the best place but many people had to park along the road today which is quite narrow already. If that is your only option, perhaps try parking on only one side, and beware how wet and muddy the road sides are, especially if parking on the edge of a yard. Although it was hard to get definitive dates, some of the locals mentioned it has been around as many as four days, and these past couple the sightings have been at Five Islands from late morning through early afternoon.

And while I don’t want to encourage anyone to do any risky behaviors, I do want to give Zachary Holderby a major kudos for thinking to bring a kayak up to capture this amazing shot:

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Dec. 30, 2021: First sighting in Maine

The first sighting in Maine was at Five Islands in Georgetown (Sagadahoc County). It was found by a resident, Linda Tharp, who spotted it on the intertidal rocks and in the trees of Crow Island. The wharf at Five Islands (43.8238825,-69.70953) is the best public vantage point for this area. The Steller’s Sea-Eagle is likely to be found hunting almost anywhere you could find a Bald Eagle right now, and almost certainly will be around open water (for catching fish). Unfortunately this means there is a ton of space for this bird to move around and it’ll likely take a lot of effort from the birding community to cover the area and find it.

Side note: The Sheepscot (where it was seen), Sasanoa, and Kennebec rivers are the route of Maine Audubon’s annual “Bald Eagles of Merrymeeting Bay” cruise each year. This is a large area with lots of eagles, and this eBird map of recent Bald Eagle sightings may help identify areas to check.

Parking/Local Considerations: There is parking at the wharf, but Linda has suggested that birders park just up the road on the left as you approach the wharf, at the tennis court parking lots with the “Welcome to Five Islands” sign (this is also labelled “Town Parking Lot” on Google Maps). Apparently local lobstermen are bringing in their traps this week and need to be able to maneuver long trailers down to the wharf, and will need those close parking spots. Please be mindful of the folks using this area for their livelihoods; give them the space needed and the right-of-way for accessing the wharf.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What? Chances are you’ve heard of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle, a resident of eastern Russia, that has been roaming around North America since the spring. This is big news, seriously: NPR, NYTimes, CBS News, CNN, Smithsonian Magazine, Huffpost, etc, have all been covering this bird, especially since it made its way south into Massachusetts last week. Well, as a surprise to no Mainers, its stay in Mass was short, and the Steller’s Sea-Eagle was found in Maine on December 30th!

Why is it here? The reason for vagrancy can vary and answers are often educated guesses at best. There is definitely an over-tendency for people to say a rare bird was “blown in on a storm” because that rarely happens. We do sometimes see tropical seabirds get caught in the eye of a hurricane that are displaced to wherever the storm makes landfall, but those birds typically are very quick to reorient and fly back to their normal range. A pattern of vagrancy in Cave Swallows has been established in the northeast when we get a south-southwest wind across the country in the fall.

A common assumption for many vagrants is that they are prospecting. This is a natural way that species expand their range; in some cases, they may find a new area to establish for breeding, but also possibly a new area to overwinter. Rufous Hummingbirds are a good example of a western species that used to winter in Mexico, but has recently established a wintering population in the southeastern US, and maybe being closer to their breeding grounds gives them an advantage come spring!

Boy or girl? Always a funny question, especially because we so often assign gender to animals that cannot be sexed visually, like this Steller’s Sea-Eagle. One of my favorite experiences with the famous Great Black Hawk of Portland was hearing how people would describe it using different genders based on what it was doing. The quotes ranged from “Wow, look at him tearing apart that squirrel” to “Aw, she looks so cold just perched there.” We do know that a majority of vagrants are male (as the Great Black Hawk was). This can easily be told with sexually dimorphic species, where the males and females look different, but even with monomorphic (where sexes look alike) we can sometimes use structural features to tell them apart.

Will it survive? Probably the toughest question, emotionally, because most vagrants probably don’t make it. In most cases, for birds to be hundreds if not thousands of miles out of their normal range, they are likely to be exposed to something, be it weather, food scarcity, outdoor cats or another novel predator, that will be a challenge to its survival. It is helpful to have context around this, like the fact that the majority of birds don’t survive their first year. Generally larger birds have higher survival rates than smaller songbirds, which can be approaching 90% mortality during that tough first year, and it helps that larger birds generally have fewer young and more parental care. Our common Black-capped Chickadees only have an average lifespan of two to three years. Like the fact above that many vagrants tend to be male, they also tend to be immature, thus vagrancy may just be another factor in the high mortality rate. The Steller’s Sea-Eagle is an interesting outlier in that it is an adult. Like our Bald Eagles, which take five years to reach their adult plumage, with the classic white head, dark body, white tail, Steller’s Sea-Eagles take four years to get their adult plumage. We cannot sex the Steller’s, but we do know it is at least four years old!