Just how big an impact can one bird make?
In summer 2020, a bird with a two metre wingspan made landfall on the North American continent for the first time. Its golden-orange beak and distinctive flashes of white on its shoulder and tail feathers identified it as a Steller’s sea eagle, native to the Russian Far East down and coastal Japan. It was soon photographed in Matanuska-Susitna County, Alaska, and shared among the online birder community. Already so far from home, “Stella” didn’t stop there. The following spring it was sighted more than 5,000 kilometres away in Victoria, Texas. Next up were stops in the Gaspé Peninsula, Que., and New Brunswick in summer 2021, followed by Nova Scotia in the fall and a winter spent in Massachusetts and Maine. Stella has been bouncing around Atlantic Canada and Northeastern United States ever since.
Stella has garnered a massive following in the online birder community, many of which have gone as far as to make the pilgrimage to see the majestic sea eagle in person. Brent Pease, a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, set out to quantify how Stella has impacted the U.S. communities it visited on an economic level. Using eBird and Twitter to track sightings and reach out to the estimated 2,115 to 2,645 bird fanatics travelling far and wide to catch a glimpse of the celebrity sea eagle, Pease collected data on how much people were spending along the way. His team found that the average person spent $243 (excluding travel time) or $374 (including travel time) to see the bird, generating almost $1,000,000 of total spending.
With Stella having spent much of 2023 in Newfoundland, and plenty of tour operators offering chances to spot the bird, it’s no doubt having a big impact on the province’s tourism economy. For more on what’s causing Stella to travel so relentlessly, read here.
Miracle of nature