American Oceans

The Difference Between a Golden Eagle and Bald Eagle

a hawk soaring in front of mountains

Golden eagles and bald eagles are two of the most iconic birds of prey in North America. While these two species share many similarities, they also have several distinct differences that set them apart. Understanding the characteristics of each bird can help birders and nature enthusiasts better appreciate their unique qualities and appreciate the diversity of the natural world.

Physical Characteristics

bald eagle perched

Golden eagles and bald eagles are two of the most iconic birds of prey in North America. While they share a number of similarities, they also have several key differences in their physical characteristics.

Size and Weight

Golden eagles are slightly smaller than bald eagles, with a body length of 28-40 inches and a wingspan of 6-7 feet. They typically weigh between 6 and 14 pounds. Bald eagles, on the other hand, are larger, with a body length of 30-40 inches and a wingspan of 6-7.5 feet. They can weigh up to 14 pounds, with females being larger than males.

Appearance

Both golden eagles and bald eagles have brown bodies and feathered legs. However, bald eagles have a distinctive white head and tail, while golden eagles have a brown head and tail. Golden eagles also have a noticeable feathered “boot” on their legs, while bald eagles do not.

Wings and Flight

Golden eagles have broad, rectangular wings that are ideal for soaring and gliding. They are capable of flying at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Bald eagles have larger wings with a slightly curved shape, which allows them to maneuver more easily in the air. They are also capable of flying at high speeds, reaching up to 100 miles per hour in level flight.

Sexual Dimorphism

Both golden eagles and bald eagles exhibit sexual dimorphism, with females being larger than males. Female golden eagles can be up to 25% larger than males, while female bald eagles can be up to 35% larger than males.

Juvenile vs Adult

Juvenile bald eagles are easily distinguished from adults by their mottled brown and white feathers, which gradually darken as they mature. Juvenile golden eagles, on the other hand, have a darker brown head and body than adults, with white patches on the wings and tail. As they mature, their feathers become more uniform in color.

Habitat and Distribution

a bald eagle catching fish

Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles are both found in North America, with the Bald Eagle being more common in the United States and the Golden Eagle having a more extensive range that includes Canada, Alaska, and Mexico. Golden Eagles can also be found in Asia, Europe, and northern Africa. In North America, Golden Eagles are more commonly found in the western United States, while Bald Eagles are more prevalent in the eastern United States.

Diet and Hunting

a golden eagle in flight

Both the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle are apex predators and are capable of hunting a wide range of prey. They have different hunting styles and preferences, which can be attributed to their physical differences.

The Golden Eagle is known to be a versatile hunter and feeds on a wide variety of prey, including mammals, birds, reptiles, and even fish. They are known to hunt larger prey such as deer, but also feed on small mammals like rabbits and hares. Golden Eagles are also known to scavenge on carrion. They are powerful hunters and are capable of taking down prey larger than themselves.

In contrast, the Bald Eagle is known to have a more specialized diet and is primarily a fish-eater. They are known to feed on a variety of fish species, including salmon, herring, and trout. Bald Eagles are also known to hunt small mammals like rabbits and hares, and occasionally feed on carrion. However, fish make up the majority of their diet.

Reproduction and Lifespan

a bald eagle in flight

Both the golden eagle and the bald eagle are raptors that build nests on cliffs or in trees. Bald eagles tend to build larger nests than golden eagles, with some nests measuring up to 13 feet deep and 8 feet wide. Golden eagles, on the other hand, build smaller nests that are typically around 3 feet in diameter. Both species will often reuse the same nest year after year, adding new materials to it each time.

Conservation Status

flying golden eagle

Both the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. The act was later amended in 1962 to include additional protection for the Golden Eagle. Both species are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Scientific Classification

bald eagle flying low over water

Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are both members of the family Accipitridae, which includes hawks, kites, and eagles. The scientific classification of golden eagles and bald eagles is as follows: Golden eagles are classified as part of the genus Aquila, while bald eagles are part of the genus Haliaeetus.

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