A threatened eagle native to coastal Europe and northern Asia has made a surprise appearance on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
"This is history in the making," said Brenda Zaun, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who confirmed sightings of the white-tailed eagle.
While the visit is rare, it is not unheard of to see the species outside of its range covering Norway, Iceland, Poland and Greece, as well as Siberia and northern Asia.
One was spotted in Alaska in 2006 and another eagle lived on Kauai for 17 years until its was reportedly killed by a helicopter, Zaun said.
The massive bird can grow to a wing span of eight feet (2 1/2 meters) and dines primarily on fish and seabirds, such as albatross and ducks. Known also as the white-tailed sea eagle, the bird can scavenge along the shoreline and also steals food from other birds.
Zaun has already seen one albatross kill from the eagle and confirmed a report of two others. But she says the bird isn't a threat to the Garden Isle's bird population.
"Humans remain the major threat for our bird population. Even if the eagle was to eat 10 albatross, that would only be 10 percent of the year's new population. It really isn't an issue to be concerned with," she said.
While believed by some ornithologist to have been hunted in the early 20th century for its feathers and eggs, the eagle's population is now most troubled by toxic pollutants and collisions with trains and power lines.
Studies are under way using GPS collars to learn more about the threatened species.
Zaun said she thinks Kauai's eagle has been on the island since December and probably arrived looking for food and rest.
"It's really spectacular to see one here," Zaun said. "Bird watchers from the other islands have come to Kauai to see if they can catch a glimpse of this beautiful, protected animal."
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