I first met Orlan and Caspian, the handsome pair of Steller's Sea Eagles in the Edinburgh Zoo who are pictured above and below, on Jane's 8th birthday, August 29, 2006. It was unforgettable.
An eagle, once sighted either at a distance or (especially) up close, commands your visual and mental field for quite a while and persists in memory long after you've left his company. Orlan and Caspian have never left mine.
The Steller's Sea Eagle (named for naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller) is enormous -- the biggest bird in the genus Haliaeetus and one of the largest raptors overall.
Their typical size range is 85 to 110 centimetres (33 to 43 in) long and the wingspan is 195 to 300 centimetres (77 to 120 in). Females typically weigh from 6.8 to 9 kilograms (15 to 20 lb), while males are considerably lighter with a weight range from 4.9 to 6 kilograms (11 to 13 lb). An unverified record exists of a huge female who, apparently gorged on salmon, weighed 12.7 kilograms (28 lb).
Steller's Sea Eagles' massive nests are build on cliffs, often near seabird colonies. Inland, they will utilize large pine trees near rivers or lakes. The birds' diet varies by location, but largely features fish and seabirds.
The eagles' large size suggests that they are a glacial relict, a remnant of a formerly widespread species that persists in an isolated area, who evolved in a narrow subarctic zone of the northeasternmost Asian coasts. The Steller's bird is unique among all sea eagles in having a yellow bill, even in juvenile birds, and possessing 14, not 12, rectrices, or tail flight feathers. The skull and bill are the largest of any eagle and are comparable to the largest Old World vultures, the biggest of the accipitrids.
Steller's Sea Eagle is classified as "Vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), meaning that they face a high rate of extinction in the wild. They are protected by law throughhout their range. In Japan they are officially designated as a "National Monument". The current population of Steller's Sea Eagles is 5,000 (and decreasing). They are threatened by habitat loss due to hydro-electric, logging and coastal development, over-fishing, pollution and human disturbance, especially in their nesting areas.
Steller's Sea Eagles have been found in North America but these are considered to be individual eagles that have strayed from Asia. They are not known to nest anywhere in North America.
Our visit to Edinburgh, its zoo (the penguins are truly remarkable there; see penguin cam) and Martin Wishart's marvelous restaurant in the Port of Leith, where we celebrated Jane's birthday dinner, were all memorable and we hope to return there soon in order to visit Orlan, Caspian and the Vane Farm Bumble Bee Sanctuary in Kinross, the first bee reserve of its kind in the world. From there we will travel north again to Loch Ness, where it would be nice to stay a while. I would also like to drink another Caledonian 80/- (pronounced "80 shilling"). You can't get in the the U.S. and it is truly great.