Peregrine falcons and golden eagles are some of the most impressive birds of prey in the skies.
They soar elegantly through the air and swoop down to catch and kill their prey. Both birds are impressive in flight and on the attack, especially when they attack other birds in mid-air.
For the most part, these birds exist in different parts of North America for the majority of the year. However, there are times when they co-exist in the same regions. What are the differences between the peregrine falcon vs golden eagle?
All About Golden Eagles
Let’s start with golden eagles.
A golden eagle is incredibly fast. It’s also big, with both males and females weighing between 105.8-216.1 ounces. That means they weigh over 6.5 pounds! Their length is 27.6-33.1 inches, and their wingspan is between 27.8 and 86.6 inches.
Talk about a huge bird! They are one of the largest raptors in North America, and such elegant birds as well. A golden eagle gets its name from the gorgeous gold feathers on the back of its head and down its neck.
One of the things that makes them easily recognizable in flight is how the feathers at the ends of their wings spread out like the fingers of an outstretched hand.
Golden Eagle Behavior
BBC Earth profiled the golden eagle and the incredible way it is able to take flight, even at its significant size and weight.
In the slowed-down video of a golden eagle in flight, you can see the rippling movements of the feathers from the front of the wings to the tips of the feathers. It’s quite amazing!
Golden eagles may be spotted solo or in pairs. They glide through the air, locate prey, and then dive down to catch their prey on the ground. They have even been spotted going on the attack against large mammals like coyotes or bears, especially if those creatures are a threat to their young.
Golden Eagle Habitat
Golden eagles prefer to fly through open country. That includes mountains, deserts, tundras, grasslands, forests, farmland, cliffs, and rivers.
They live year-round in the western half of the U.S. and Canada. They are scarce in the Eastern U.S. but they may occasionally fly through Eastern Canada during their migration.
All About Peregrine Falcons
Peregrine falcons are another large bird of prey, but they are nowhere near as large as a golden eagle. They are one of the largest falcon species in North America. Males are slightly smaller than females. Their length ranges from 14.2-19.3 inches, and they have a wingspan of 39.4-43.3 inches.
They can weigh between 18.7 and 56.4 ounces, which is about 1-3.5 pounds.
Their appearance is quite stunning. They have a blue-grey back and a white chest and belly that has dark-colored bars on the sides. They are also described as having sideburns.
Their appearance actually varies quite a bit from one geographic region to another, but you can usually expect them to have that steely blue back and barred breast.
Peregrine Falcon Behavior
Peregrine falcons hunt other birds, especially pigeons, ducks, and shorebirds like gulls.
They dive down from above in what is called a “stoop.” They pull their wings close to their body and become what can only be described as aerodynamic projectiles! It’s really stunning to see.
Like golden eagles, they can spot their prey in mid-flight or perch at a high vantage point and survey the territory around them for prey.
Peregrine Falcon Habitat
Peregrine falcons live in a variety of environments, including open country, mountain ranges, and even cities. It’s in the cities that they become so adept at catching pigeons! When they live in the city, they nest on the ledges of tall buildings.
They are located primarily on the West Coast of the U.S, in western Mexico, and in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Which Is Faster? A Peregrine Falcon or a Golden Eagle?
These are both very fast birds.
According to the United States Forest Service, a golden eagle dives to speeds that can reach more than 150 mph. A peregrine falcon, on the other hand, can dive at a speed of over 200 mph! Their regular flight speed ranges from 34-69 mph.
Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world. If you ever have the chance to see one diving for its prey, consider yourself lucky to have seen one of the most impressive bird behaviors in all of nature!
Do Eagles Eat Peregrine Falcons?
We know that peregrine falcons eat birds. That is their main diet. But what about eagles? Will they eat peregrine falcons?
First of all, it’s worth noting that peregrine falcons can outfly golden eagles. If a golden eagle tried to catch an adult peregrine falcon, it probably couldn’t catch it unless it managed to completely surprise the falcon.
Secondly, even though golden eagles outsize peregrine falcons, gold eagles don’t eat many birds as part of their diet. They prefer ground-dwelling mammals. However, there are instances of golden eagles eating peregrine falcons; it’s just not a major part of their diet.
Third, the one time that a golden eagle might eat a peregrine falcon is if the eagle comes across a falcon nest with babies. Most eagles, hawks, owls, and other birds of prey will eat baby birds when the opportunity arises.
Finally, golden eagles and peregrine falcons rarely inhabit the same geographic area. That prevents many opportunities from arising in which an eagle and falcon might face each other.
Pesticide Poisoning in Peregrine Falcon vs Golden Eagle
Another interesting difference between peregrine falcons and golden eagles is how they were affected by DDT.
DDT was a pesticide that was used from the 1940s until it was banned in 1972. It affected animals high on the food chain by incrementally poisoning their prey. The biggest impact was on fish and animals that eat fish.
Peregrine falcons eat large amounts of shorebirds, which live on a diet of fish. This bird-heavy diet means that golden falcons were nearly eradicated by the effects of DDT. Rescued from near extinction, peregrine falcons are now thriving.
Golden falcons may eat birds, but they prefer land mammals like rabbits, rodents, and hares. They also eat reptiles and some birds, but not many shorebirds. Golden falcons did not face serious repercussions from DDT the way that peregrine falcons did.
Golden Eagles & Peregrine Falcons: Beautiful Birds of Prey
These differences between golden eagles and peregrine falcons prove one main thing: these are both gorgeous, fascinating birds!
Their speed, appearance, and diving behavior are worth taking note of. If you live in or find yourself visiting their habitat, pick up a pair of binoculars or a great spotting scope and watch out for the chance to see these stunning forces of nature!