An Awesome Hunter: the Steller's Sea-Eagle of the far north

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

the eagle

Named after the German biologist and physician, Georg Wilhelm Steller, the extraordinary Steller’s Sea-Eagle is the world’s largest eagle. Steller’s breeds up in the Kamchatka Peninsula but during the harsh winters moves down south to the milder climes of the Kuril Islands and Hokkaido, Japan’s “North Sea Road”. The scientific name Haliaeetus pelagicus means sea-eagle of the open seas. They feed on fish, especially salmon during the summer and cod in winter, which is also the foundation of the fishing industry of Hokkaido. And this in turn attracts relatively large numbers of this increasingly scarce and spectacular bird to the Shiretoko Peninsula in Japan’s far north east.

portraits of the ō-washi

Known as the Ō-Washi 大鷲 or Great Eagle, in Japan, the Steller’s Sea-Eagle is a huge bird with a massive yellow bill and a wingspan of more than two meters. The bill is designed for ripping and tearing at flesh - they not only feed on fish but also crabs, squid, carcasses and carrion. They often steal food from other eagles and seabirds, a behavior known at kleptoparasitism. The females are larger than the males.


The northernmost and second largest island, Hokkaido is Japan’s “wild west”, with wide open spaces and a frontier attitude. Only 5% of the population lives here so there is plenty of room for solitude and nature. Hokkaido represents a transitional zone between cool temperate forests to the south and subarctic forests to the north. With rocky shorelines, expansive forests and marshlands and majestic mountains, beauty and nature abounds.


Hokkaido is full of wonderful wildlife, even in winter! There are dancing Red-crowned Cranes, the Hokkaido race of the Red Fox, huge rafts of all sorts of wildfowl such as Long-tailed Duck and Northern Pintail. As well as Hokkaido Sika Deer (Ezo Shika), Hokkaido Brown Bear, Blakiston’s Fish-Owl and many more species of mammals, birds and others.

the other eagle

The Steller’s Sea-Eagle’s closest competitor is the smaller, more widespread and more common White-tailed Eagle. Its plumage is brown with a white tail. They’re often seen together with Steller’s competing over food.

#birds #birding #wildlife

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