Within the behemoth that is Reddit there exist more than a million subreddits where communities unite over niche interests, whether universal basic income, yeast, or, as a new viral post shows, insanely huge birds. While the notoriously untamed site can be a cesspool of online toxicity, curious readers can also walk away with the type of scientific knowledge that would have made high school biology class a lot more exciting. The viral video of a massive bird, posted Sunday to r/interestingasfuck, garnered that sort of earnest curiosity.
As of Monday, the post titled “This massive bird” has received 84.7 thousand up-votes and over 1,900 comments. It’s actually a repost of an Instagram video uploaded by Jade Dickinson, who works at the Full Flight Birds of Prey Centre in Victoria, Australia, and who has previously taken bird selfies with Will Smith. Dickinson identifies the admittedly massive bird in her original post, but as this is the internet, lots of Reddit commenters inquired, “what type of bird?” before an answer finally emerged: It’s a Steller’s sea eagle, the largest eagle species in the world.
With a wingspan as wide as eight feet and a striking yellow beak, the Steller’s sea eagle looks more like a Muppet than an actual living animal. But it’s real, all right, and it’s extremely metal. The Steller’s sea eagle only breeds in far eastern Russia, along the coasts of the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and most individuals migrate to Japan and Korea in the winter. The ones that don’t migrate live instead above the open sea and perch on sea ice, because, as mentioned before, the Steller’s sea eagle is extremely metal.
As the Reddit commenters point out, the arresting appearance of the Steller’s sea eagle is a casual reminder that the 200 to 400 billion birds that surround us are dinosaurs. That’s right. Birds are avian dinosaurs — and technically reptiles — because science is fun and confusing! Living birds are descended from manirapotran theropods, a group of meat-eating dinosaurs that included Velociraptors.
Looking at the Steller’s sea eagle is a very robust reminder that, yes, carnivorous predators once ruled Mesozoic ecosystems, and they’re still living and hungry today. However, how much longer we’ll get to share the planet with them is a question of the utmost importance. The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently lists the status of this huge bird as “vulnerable,” which is just a step below “endangered.” Habitat degradation, pollution, and over-fishing have caused their population to decline; right now there’s about 5,000 of them left.
This makes spreading the amazing news of the Steller’s sea eagle all the more important. As Reddit commenter Kanger points out, it is indeed “equal parts cuteness and danger” — and it’s up to us to keep that cuteness and danger around.