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Steller's Sea Eagle

Haliaeetus pelagicus

Photo: Steller's sea eagle on snow spreading wings

Photo: Steller's sea eagle on snow spreading wings (View larger version)

Photograph by Tim Laman

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These very large, powerful eagles are also striking in appearance. They are dark but dramatically colored with white tail, shoulders, rump, thighs and forehead.

These eagles are believed to breed only in far eastern Russia, along the coasts and surrounding islands of the Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea. They are most common on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Each winter, many Steller's sea eagles migrate from their breeding grounds to Japan, and a few reach Korea or even farther afield. Other individuals do not migrate, but simply move to open water as winter approaches.

Open water provides these eagles with their main food sources along coastlines and lakes. In their breeding grounds, Steller's sea eagles subsist largely on salmon, and they both hunt and scavenge for this resource. Annual salmon runs provide an enormous bounty and Steller's sea eagle nests are typically located near coasts and rivers where these fish appear en masse.

These birds of prey hunt from a perch or from flight by diving and clutching prey in their talons. They also stand in shallow water or on the ice and grab passing fish when the opportunity arises. Like other eagles, Steller's also steal food from other birds.

In Japan, Steller's sea eagles feast on cod. In addition to fish, they eat crabs, shellfish, squid, small animals, ducks, gulls, and carrion.

Steller's sea eagles do not occur in large numbers, but their populations appear to be stable. Their feathers were once highly prized, but today these magnificent birds are protected throughout their range. They are especially revered in Japan, where they are known as O-washi.

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