Northeastern Russian coast south to North Korea and Japan


Tree-lined open river plains and rocky coastlines

Eagle of the sea

The Steller’s sea-eagle is dark, impressive, and the largest of all sea-eagles. It is a diurnal, fish-eating raptor that mainly eats salmon and trout. Like its other close relatives—harriers, kites, and goshawks—it uses its excellent sense of vision to help it find its prey. Despite its large size and attractive appearance, the habits of the Steller's sea-eagle are not well known.

Big birds

The heaviest known eagle, the Steller’s sea-eagle averages 15 to 18 pounds (6.8 to 8 kilograms), and females can be 5 to 10 pounds (2 to 4 kilograms) larger than the males. Scientists believe that the eagles are glacial relics that evolved in the narrow subarctic zone of the northeast Asian coast and simply stayed there through multiple Ice Age cycles, never occurring anywhere else. Other northern sea-eagles share the yellow legs, eyes, and beak of the Steller’s, and they are large birds as well, which seems to support this theory.

The Steller’s sea-eagle was named for a noted 18th-century zoologist and explorer, Georg Wilhelm Steller.
The Steller’s sea-eagle is considered the most powerful and aggressive of its closest relatives, the bald eagle and the white-tailed sea-eagle.
The scientific name of the Steller's sea-eagle translates roughly to "eagle of the open seas.”
Steller’s sea-eagles are honored in Japan, where they are called “o-washi.”

The San Diego Zoo has a pair of Steller’s sea-eagles along the Eagle Trail.

Eagles and humans
This vulnerable species is given complete legal protection in Russia, the only place it breeds, and in Japan, where it overwinters. In spite of these protections, human behavior continues to harm the remaining sea-eagle population. In Russia, Steller’s are losing their habitat because of the development of hydroelectric power projects and logging in the forested areas where they nest. And the rivers where the eagles fish are being contaminated by chemicals from local industries.

In Japan, sea-eagles eat both fish and carrion. Overfishing by humans in Japanese waters has led the eagles to scavenge on sika deer remains left by hunters. Eating carrion filled with lead shot from the hunters has had devastating effects on the eagle population, leading to the outlawing of lead ammunition on Japan’s Hokkaido Island. As of 2006, the world’s population was estimated at 5,000 birds, but it is slowly decreasing.

Still much to learn
Very little is known about these eagles, especially their early years. San Diego Zoo Global and Natural Research, Ltd. are studying the movements of young Steller’s sea-eagles in their native habitat in hopes of protecting the species in the wild. The San Diego Zoo also has a pair of Steller’s sea-eagles and has loaned pairs of birds to four other zoos in the United States. We hope that seeing these amazing raptors up close will encourage visitors to participate in the conservation of this rare species.

You can help us bring species like the Steller's sea-eagle back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.