Bald Eagle vs. Golden Eagle: The Similarities and Differences Between Two Raptors

Sharing is caring!

Eagles are impressive and majestic birds. There are 60 species of eagle around the world, but only two of those are found in North America. Comparing and contrasting these two birds can help us to learn a lot more about both of them.

What is the Bald Eagle?

bald eagle

American Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are the first of the two eagles found in North America. It is a sea eagle that has two known sub-species. The Bald eagle is, of course, the national bird of the United States and appears on its seal. On the brink of extinction in the contiguous United States in the 20th Century, their numbers are recovering.

H. l. leucocephalus is the nominate subspecies. It is found in the southern United States and Baja California Peninsula. H. l. washingtoniensis, the northern subspecies, is larger than the southern nominate leucocephalus. It is found in the northern United States, Canada, and Alaska.

What is the Golden Eagle?

Golden Eagle

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is the second eagle found in North America. It is the most widely distributed eagle species and the largest and least populous of the five species of true accipitrid to occur as a breeding species in both the Palearctic and Nearctic.

The golden eagle is part of a broad group of raptors called ‘booted eagles.’ They have feathering over their tarsus, unlike many other accipitrids that have bare legs. The golden eagle seen in north America is of the subspecies Aquila chrysaetos Canadensis.

This eagle is found as a nesting species across western North America and is present all year in the western United States. It is also seen as a non-nesting species in the northeastern United States.

What are the Similarities Between the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle?

Both of these eagles are within the Accipitridae family. They are both fierce predators – birds of prey that are extremely successful within their habitats and ranges.

Of course, as the only two eagles found in North America, this is something else these two birds have in common. Bald eagles and golden eagles, however, do differ somewhat in where they are found.

In terms of appearance, adults are of a very similar size but otherwise do not look that much alike. But juveniles can be harder to distinguish. In both species, the females are larger than the males.

What are the Differences Between Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles?

To tell bald and golden eagles apart, we can look at where they are found, delve a little deeper into their appearance and size, and look at their diets and other aspects of their behavior.

Habitat and Range

The bald eagle is found only in North America. On the other hand, the golden eagle has a much broader range and is found in large stretches of Eurasia and parts of North Africa as well as North America.

These famous raptors might be seen more frequently across much of the United States, while the golden eagle is absent from the southeast. So if you spot an eagle east of a line running between North Dakota past westernmost Nebraska and Oklahoma to West Texas, then it is far more likely to be a bald eagle.

The bald eagle is most commonly found in and around temperate forests and areas near large bodies of water with an abundant food supply and old-growth trees for nesting.

The golden eagle prefers hunting in open or semi-open areas and seeks them out year-round. Native vegetation seems to be attractive to them and they typically avoid developed areas of any type, from urban to agricultural as well as heavily forested regions.

Do Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles Hang Out Together?

Golden and bald eagles can be found in the same areas, but they won’t usually be found together.

Golden eagles are solitary birds or found in pairs during the breeding season. Bald eagles are somewhat more sociable but are highly competitive with other bald eagles, so they will not usually tolerate them nearby. So it is improbable that they will be seen with golden eagles.

Appearance – Plumage

The adult bald eagle has an evenly dark brown body, a striking white head (that gives it its name), and a white tail. Its tail is moderately long and slightly wedge-shaped.

The adult golden eagle, males, and females are primarily dark brown, with some grey on the inner wing and tail and a paler, typically golden color on the back of the crown and the nape of their necks.

Adult birds of these species are easy to tell apart where they can be seen clearly. However, things are a little different when the birds are still juveniles since the bald eagles will not yet have developed their distinctive white head. They still have a darker-colored head, not easily distinguished from the golden brown head of the golden eagle.

So juvenile bald eagles are often mistaken for golden eagles.

When trying to tell the two apart, note that the head of a bald eagle is more elongated and bigger than the golden eagle’s, and bald eagles also have larger beaks.

Another difference between the juvenile birds is that the juvenile bald eagle has a dark beak and dark cere (the bare patch at the base of the upper side of the beak. In contrast, the golden eagle has a yellow cere.

Golden eagles tend to have a marbled pattern on their feathers, while bald eagles’ feathers are spotted.

Size

Bald eagle

  • Length: 70 – 102 centimeters (28 – 40 inches)
  • Weight: 3 – 6.3 kilograms (6.6 – 13.9 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 1.8 – 2.3 meters (71 – 91 inches)

Golden eagle

  • Length: 66 – 102 centimeters (26 – 40 inches)
  • Weight: 3.6 – 5.1 kilograms (7.9 – 11 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 1.8 – 2.3 meters (71 – 91 inches)

Diet

Bald eagles are opportunistic carnivores and consume a wide range of prey, such as fish (which typically makes up over half of their diet), other birds, small mammals, and occasionally other creatures, such as reptiles, amphibians, or invertebrates along coastlines.

The golden eagle’s diet comprises small mammals such as rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and marmots. Golden eagles also eat other birds, reptiles, and fish in smaller numbers and occasionally capture larger prey such as seals, coyotes, or badgers.

Behavior

Golden eagles spend a lot of time in flight and are sometimes considered the best fliers among eagles and perhaps among all raptors.

Which Eagle is Bigger, a Bald Eagle or Golden Eagle?

The bald eagle and golden eagle are very similar in size. Neither one is significantly large. In both of these bird species, female eagles are larger than males.

Which is More Powerful, a Bald Eagle or Golden Eagle?

A bald eagle has a grip strength of around 400 pounds per square inch, and these birds can lift a weight of about five pounds.

However, the golden eagle might be stronger since golden eagles can exert a staggering 750 pounds of crushing power per square inch. They can also carry prey up to around a third of their weight in some instances.

Which is Faster, a Bald Eagle or Golden Eagle?

When hunting or displaying, the golden eagle can glide very fast, reaching speeds of up to 120 mph and even incredible diving speeds of 150-200 mph when hunting prey.

While still impressively fast, this beautiful bird can only reach top speeds of around 100 mph, so the golden eagle is the faster bird.

Sharing is caring!

Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.