Since its first appearance in Maine roughly a month ago, a rare Steller’s sea eagle has become a sensation that’s drawn the attention of thousands of people worldwide.
The eagle is among some of the largest birds in the world and is very far away from its typical habitats of Japan and Eastern Russia, according to Doug Hitchcox, a staff naturalist at Maine Audubon.
"I would say at least 5,000 people have come to Maine over the last month to see this bird and that’s probably even an underestimate," said Hitchcox during a Wednesday interview with NECN/NBC 10 Boston.
As an indicator of how popular the raptor is, a Maine Audubon webinar scheduled for Wednesday night and titled “The Amazing Saga of the Steller’s Sea Eagle,” was slated to be full, with 1,000 attendees present.
"I think we even have someone in Australia," said Hitchcox adding "that’ll be a fun morning watch for them while it’s the evening here."
Although the sea eagle had not been seen for roughly a week, birders like Evan Liberman of Jericho, Vermont, were in Boothbay Harbor on Wednesday, parked in the lot at the Maine State Aquarium, which is in an area that was a recent hotspot for sightings.
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"When you have a reasonable shot at finding a Babe Ruth rookie card laying in the street, you’d make that drive," said Liberman, explaining that the effort of using free time on a work trip to Lewiston to travel out of his way to try to find the bird was more than worth it.
"I could go to LL Bean and watch stock trout swim around in a pool, or I can go try to find the bird," he said, pointing out that the bird’s presence was "a rarity that will never happen again."
Liberman said he had tried to see the eagle during its brief visit to Massachusetts but he "missed it by an hour" then had to travel for work during the time it had returned.
"Someone will find it and you’ll see a bunch of us racing after it," Liberman hypothesized, alluding to videos and images like the ones captured by local photographers from Black River Gallery and Man by the Sea of people rushing around in groups on midcoast Maine roads and bridges to catch a glimpse of the large bird.
"Not to sound cliché but this is absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime event," said Hitchcox, noting that experts estimate there are only about 5,000 Steller’s sea eagles in the entire world. The event is even "rarer" than the sighting of a rare Central or South American hawk in a Portland, Maine park in 2018, he said.
"Even my father-in-law was asking about it."
Hitchcox also believes the Steller’s sea eagle could very well be in Maine for a while because the species "spends a lot of time just sitting in one spot," though it could also choose to go somewhere else or try to fly back home.
"Once it has a couple of lobster rolls, why not head back to Eastern Russia?" he joked.
Hitchcox also thinks the bird is healthy, is in a climate similar to its native habitat and should have plenty of food nearby, so there is no harm, if it indeed has stayed in Maine longer.
"The key is anyone who goes out looking for it gives it as much space as possible," he added.