By Jennifer Nixon, Denver Zoo Bird Keeper
Introducing our feathered friend of the week. She is the baby Stellar’s sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus). She was hatched here on exhibit by her parents on March 4th.
These pictures show her getting her first vet exam and west nile vaccination. Check out the talons on that baby! Ursula, previously feathered on Denver Zoo’s Facebook page, is this baby’s mother. She just turned 9 years old last month. She got her name from “The Little Mermaid” villain due to her intense, tough stare. Vlad the Impaler is the baby’s daddy who just turned 7 years old last month. The baby will be getting her name from her species homeland of Russia. Since none of her keepers speak fluent Russian we are consulting with some of our contacts for a grammatically accurate representation of how awesome and majestic she is.
Steller’s sea eagles nest on the coast and rivers of eastern Russia and migrate to Japan and Korea in winter. Occasionally some individuals stay in Russia during winter if they can be near open water where they find their main food source, fish. Less often they eat small birds, crab, shellfish and carrion such as dead deer or other mammals. They build a nest of twigs and sticks in trees or on rocks and lay 1-3 eggs in a clutch. Ursula was just introduced to Vlad the Impaler, in 2012. They built a nest last year but failed to produce any offspring. This year they tried again and has success. They have taken exceptional care of this chick. They have continually been bringing food to the nest. When the chick was younger they would tear apart the meat and give it to the chick. Now the chick is old enough to tear her own meat, but still has it delivered to her by her parents to the nest.
Steller’s sea eagles are the heaviest eagle species with females weighing about 15-20 pounds and males weighing about 11-13 pounds. They have a wing span of 6-8 feet. Her species is not the largest eagle in other body measurements with the harpy eagle and the Philippine eagle measuring larger.
According to the IUCN Red List Steller’s sea eagles are classified as “vulnerable” to extinction with about 5000 individuals in the population. They are legally protected in all of the countries they are natively found and are considered a national treasure in Japan. One of the proposed conservation actions is to survey the species to get a more accurate number of how many are left in the wild. Some of the numerous threats they face in the wild include habitat alteration for hydroelectric power projects and development of the petrochemical industry, logging, pollution, DDT/DDE (a banned pesticide), PCBs (a toxic industrial coolant), lead poisoning (from eating deer carrion killed by lead shot) and overfishing. Since eagles are an apex predator, any toxins in the food chain are accumulated in the food until it reaches the eagle in highly intensified levels, leading to many health and reproductive issues, up to and including death.
Steller’s sea eagles are easily recognized due to their size and dramatic appearance. One of the most noticeable features about them is their massive yellow, strongly-hooked beak, which matches the feet in color. Another distinguishable feature of an adult Steller’s sea eagle is the white “shoulders” and white wedge-shaped tail.
The chick still has a lot of maturing to do and will have to wait a few years before she grows into the white feathers and the yellow colors on the feet and beak. She has already done a lot of growing since she was only hatched in March. For weeks, she spent her time flapping her wings, building her muscles and stretching to prepare for her fledge day. That finally came this week and she is capable of flight!
You can visit her in the Bird of Prey yard on the side of Bird World, presented by Frontier Airlines, in between the African penguins and Toyota Elephant Passage. Typically she’ll either be in the nest, as she likes to go home to visit, or on one of the logs on the ground. She will be the one without white “shoulders.”