Steller’s Sea Eagle

Published on 18 March 2019 in Book reviews

By Vladimir Masterov, Michael Romanov and Richard Sale

Snowfinch Publishing, 2018; hbk, 384pp; colour photographs and line-drawings; ISBN 978-0-9571732-3-1

£39.99 buy it from the BB Bookshop

One of the world’s largest eagles, with the world’s largest eagle beak, the spectacular Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus is on many birdwatchers’ bucket list. For those yet to track it down, this book will further whet the appetite. It is a translation of a Russian volume by the first two authors, with an updated text and a new chapter added on flight dynamics by the third author. It is a timely publication. Although this huge eagle has fared relatively well until recently, largely due to the remoteness of its breeding range, this situation is now starting to change. The exploitation of oil reserves and associated developments are increasing and without appropriate mitigation measures the already small population and the habitats it uses will come under increasing pressure.

The authors have an academic background and are happy to deploy complex scientific formulae when presenting information about this bird. With only a 30-year-old maths A-level to work with, I found a few sections too much of a struggle to get through. Yet the book is very well organised and if you are not a fan of maths or modelling, it is easy to skip over the offending sections and onto the next, without losing much of the overall story. (And if you are a fan, you will no doubt enjoy them.) The majority of the book is accessible and well written, succeeding in its aim of making information about this species available to a broad audience.

A particular highlight of this book is its use of colour figures and the inclusion of well-chosen, high-quality colour photographs throughout. The photographs give the reader a real feel for the bird, the way it behaves, the food it eats, the places it nests, the threats it faces, and the remote landscapes where it makes its living. It might be easy to forget that Brown Bears Ursus arctos are a significant nest predator if you simply read a few lines of text about it. But a series of photographs showing a battle between the two species, and the remains of nests that have been ripped apart, help to lodge that information firmly in the memory. The image showing a smooth metal sheet tied around the trunk of a nest tree perfectly illustrates a technique adopted by researchers to prevent further attacks. The book was funded by an energy company so perhaps that has facilitated the lavish production. Hopefully it also signals a willingness to try to look after this bird during the inevitable developments ahead. Time will tell…

Most European birders lucky enough to have seen this species will have done so in its well-known wintering areas in northern Japan. Some may have wondered what it gets up to when it migrates back north to its remote breeding areas. If so, this excellent book, based on a comprehensive overview of all the latest research, will be a worthwhile investment.

Ian Carter