Harpy Eagle vs. Golden Eagle: Two Magnificent Apex Predators

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There are over 60 different types of eagle around the world. However, only two live in North America, and only nine are located in Central and South America. The harpy eagle is one of the latter, and the golden eagle, along with the bald eagle, is a North American eagle species.

Though you will never find these two bird species together, comparing them with other eagles to learn more about these amazing birds of prey is still interesting.

What is a harpy eagle?

harpy eagle

The harpy eagle, Harpia harpyja, lives in the emergent layer of rainforests from Mexico through Central America and South America as far south as Argentina. This impressive predator is sadly under threat due to habitat loss and human incursion.

What is a golden eagle?

golden eagle

The golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos, is the most widespread of any eagle species, found in many locations across the northern hemisphere. It is present in large stretches of Eurasia, North America, and parts of North Africa.

Comparing the harpy eagle and a golden eagle

There are several significant differences between these two species and absolutely no chance of confusing the two eagles.

Range and Habitat

As mentioned above, the golden eagle is a North American eagle, while the harpy eagle is a raptor of the neotropics. This is the main reason why no birdwatcher could ever confuse the two.

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

On the other hand, the harpy eagle is a forest species. It lives and hunts in the emergent layer of rainforests in the neotropics.

Statistics

Harpy eagle:

  • Length: a median of 98.5cm (39 inches)
  • Weight: a median of 5.95kg (13 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 176 to 224 cm (69 in to 88 in)

Golden eagle:

  • Length: 66 to 102 cm (26 to 40 in)
  • Weight: 3.6 -5.1 kg (7.9 – 11 lb)
  • Wingspan: 180 to 234 cm (71 in to 92 in)

The females of both species are larger than the males. There can be quite a lot of variety in size among golden eagles, depending on the environment and geographical location.

The hind claw of a golden eagle is about one centimeter longer than a bald eagle’s and a little more than one centimeter less than a harpy eagle’s.

Appearance

The harpy eagle has slate-black feathers on its upper side, and the underside is primarily white, except for the feathered tarsi, which are striped in black. Its white belly and gray head with a double crest are separated by a broad black band across the upper breast.

The upper side of the tail is black with three gray bands, while the underside is black with three white bands.

The golden eagle is not even close in appearance. The adult birds, male and female, are primarily dark brown, with some gray on the inner wing and tail and a paler, typically golden color on the back of the crown and the nape of their necks.

So there is little to no chance you might mistake a picture of one of these eagles for the other. The different color markings and physical features should make things very clear with even a cursory glance.

While the golden eagle is typically easily identified since it is much larger than most similar shaped and hued birds within its range, it may occasionally be mistaken for or confused with a turkey vulture from a great distance.

And, if it is difficult to establish size due to distance, smaller birds like Buteo hawks might also be confused for these birds.

Diet

Harpy and golden eagles eat mammals as a significant part of their diet. However, while harpy eagles typically eat mostly sloths and monkeys, the diet of golden eagles is composed primarily of 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.

Flight & Behavior

Harpy eagles are wait-and-watch type hunters who tend to spend more time perched and less time in flight. They can still fly at around 50 MPH when swooping on their prey.

Golden eagles spend much more time in flight and are sometimes considered the best fliers among eagles and perhaps among all raptors. When hunting food or displaying, the golden eagle can glide very fast, reaching speeds of up to 120 MPH and even 150-200 MPH when diving after prey.

Is the harpy the biggest eagle?

The harpy eagle is one of the largest eagles in the world. However, the ‘biggest’ eagle title depends on whether we measure it by length, weight, or wingspan.

According to ‘Raptors of the World,’ the largest eagle by length is the Philippine Eagle, which has a median total length of 100cm or 39 inches.

If we look at weight, Steller’s sea eagle tops the charts at 6.7 kg (14.75 lb).

And if we look at wingspan, the golden eagle comes fourth, after the white-tailed eagle, Steller’s sea eagle, and wedge-tailed eagle. In comparison, the harpy eagle is not even in the top five.

What eagle is bigger than a harpy eagle?

The Philippine eagle is the only eagle longer than the harpy eagle, making the harpy eagle the second largest in the world by this metric.

By weight, the harpy eagle comes in third, after the Steller’s sea eagle and Philippine eagle.

But if we look at wingspan, the harpy’s relatively short wingspan shoves it down the charts. In this metric, the golden eagle is typically the larger of the two.

What is the strongest eagle in the world?

The harpy and golden eagle are among the most powerful birds in the world.

Harpy eagles possess the most enormous talons of any living eagle and have been recorded lifting prey weighing as much as their own body weight. They are said to be able to exert more than 530 pounds of pressure with their powerful grip.

However, golden eagles might be even stronger since these amazing birds can exert 750 pounds of pressure per square inch. However, while golden eagles can carry a little more than 1/3 of their weight in some instances, they cannot carry as much weight as a harpy eagle.

So while we know that both are very powerful eagles, it is not easy to say which is truly the stronger species.

The truth is that whatever eagle you are looking at, these birds are incomparable and easily some of the most impressive birds in the world. So if you are lucky enough to be able to watch them or spot them in the wild, it is likely to be a remarkable experience for anyone with a love of our feathered friends.

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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.