A lost eagle from Asia has been traveling around North America for more than a year
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has been a box-office hit this week, but an Asian sea eagle reported in Massachusetts on Monday could have its own film with a similar title — it has been thousands of miles from home for more than a year.
Massachusetts’ Division of Fisheries and Wildlife posted on Facebook on Monday saying the bird, known as a Steller’s sea eagle, was spotted along the Taunton River. It says the large bird weighs as much as 20 pounds, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet.
Steller’s sea eagles are native to China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and eastern Russia, so this bird is at least 5,000 miles from home. But what’s even wilder is that the same exact bird has been traveling across North America since at least August 2020.
It was first spotted in Alaska during the summer of 2020. Then the bird was seen in Texas and then around Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast last month, Smithsonian magazine reported in November.
Birders are sure it’s the same eagle because it has unique white markings on its wings, the magazine said.
While it’s not entirely rare for birds to lose their way — a process called vagrancy — it’s still notable that this eagle was found in Massachusetts and all these other different regions of the United States and Canada. Scientists have been looking into how climate change impacts these vagrant birds and how they could possibly survive in new environments if they can’t find a way home.
But Alex Lees, a lecturer of conservation biology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, told NPR in an email that it’s more likely that this bird’s vagrancy was caused by something internal, such as “a failure to switch off the instinct to disperse or a failure of its navigatory apparatus.”
Many birds like the Steller’s sea eagle go through a “phase of wandering” early in life, he said, but since this bird hasn’t returned to its place of origin in more than a year, it’s more likely it will stay in this region rather than return home.
“It may be doomed to perpetually wander in search of a member of its own species, remaining in suitable areas for months perhaps, but the urge to wander to find a mate may drive it to keep moving,” he wrote. “It is still possible that this individual may find its way back, but the longer it stays the less likely this seems.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.