All birds are descendants of the dinosaur age, dating the first bird known as the Aves roughly 144 million years ago. However, the eagle first evolved roughly 36 million years ago – naturally descended from raptors.
The Golden Eagle (Aquila Chrysaetos) and the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Leucocephalus) belong to the Accipitridae family, otherwise known as predatory birds.
The Bald Eagle has been the United States national symbol since 1782. The bald and Golden Eagles are of least concern due to the “Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act” enacted in 1940. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Bald Eagle numbers plummeted quickly.
So, what’s the difference between a Golden Eagle and a Bald Eagle?
About the Golden Eagle
Known as one of the largest and quickest birds of prey in North America, the Golden Eagle is sighted mainly in the western U.S. They have enormous wings and are mainly brown.
Golden Eagles can dive faster than 240 km per hour and have a wingspan of 72 to 86 inches. This species is slightly smaller and lighter than the Bald Eagle but is entirely covered in feathers from head to feet, unlike the Bald Eagle.
Perhaps, the physical appearance of the Golden Eagle is the main difference from a Bald Eagle, as the Golden Eagle does not have a white head. Golden Eagles are primarily brown, with golden specks at the nape of their neck.
Although, a young Golden Eagle represents white patches of feathers spread along their wrists toward the tips of their wings and at the base of their tail. As the Golden Eagle matures, the white patches become dark brown or golden.
Golden Eagles grow to be three and a half feet tall and weigh approximately four to fifteen pounds as a mature adult.
Breeding habits occur in much of western and northern Canada, ranging from parts of British Columbia and Alaska. Female Golden Eagles lay two eggs three to four days apart starting in March. Chicks will hatch after the incubation period by late April or mid-May (43 – 45 days later).
Golden Eagle chicks will hatch a few days apart, the first one being the dominant one. Unfortunately, the second golden chick to hatch has a survival rate of 20 percent within the first few weeks of life.
Male Golden Eagles hunt and provide the young with food, while the female is responsible for feeding and caring for the young for the first two weeks. Around 65 to 75 (9 – 10 weeks) days old, the young prepare to fly and begin a solitary life after 100 days (roughly three months later in October).
Breeding maturity starts at the age of three to four years old.
Golden Eagles reside mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, avoiding developed areas and uninterrupted forest regions. You can find Golden Eagles in mountainous regions up to 12,000 feet high.
Gold eagles inhabit other areas such as rimrock terrain, shrubland, forests, grasslands, and other vegetated areas, along riverside cliffs and canyonlands. Golden Eagles are diverse in their habitat choice, as they have been seen in places from hot deserts to the freezing arctic.
While not all Golden Eagles migrate, some do and will migrate to northern and eastern Canada at the beginning of the Fall season.
About the Bald Eagle
In native cultures, the Bald Eagle has been a spiritual symbol for thousands of years. Despite their name, the Bald Eagle is not actually bald, and they have a full white head which makes them stand out from other eagles.
Bald Eagles don’t get their white head and tail feathers until they reach four years old. As a mature adult, the Bald Eagle’s wingspan stretches about 7 seven feet long (84 inches) – slightly smaller than the golden.
Bald Eagles are similar to and fall under the same category as the “sea eagle” and have two subspecies to their kind. Also slower than a Golden Eagle, the Bald Eagle can gain speeds up to 160km per hour. In comparison, a Golden Eagle reaches speeds of 320 km per hour.
The Bald Eagle is primarily brown with white patches that cover its wings and brown tail feather tips as a juvenile. The dark spots become almost pure white as they mature, covering most of their head and tail feathers.
Equipped with two-inch talons and feet with small spikes called spicules, the Bald Eagle uses their talons and hooked beak to catch prey. Bald Eagles grow to be three feet tall and weigh between six and fourteen pounds.
Like most eagles, the Bald Eagle mates for life. However, if their spouse dies or fails to reproduce, they will find another mate. To get a mate, the Bald Eagle will display a show of aerobatic tricks, including cartwheels, swoops, and chases to attract their mate.
Like the Golden Eagle, the Bald Eagle will lay only two eggs, rarely three, with an incubation period sooner than a Golden Eagle lasting roughly 35 days. Like the Golden Eagle, the mother broods and feeds her young while the male hunts and provides food. However, unlike the golden, the Bald Eagle will brood her young for one month (rather than two weeks).
Northern Bald Eagles will lay their eggs by mid-November to January, whereas southern Bald Eagles will lay eggs between April and May. Each young Bald Eaglet will leave its nest roughly sixteen weeks after hatching (around the same time a golden would).
Breeding takes place in all of Canada but typically resides year-round along the outskirts from Alaska to the State of Oregon and parts of New Brunswick and Florida.
You can find Bald Eagles in nests along coastal rivers, sea coasts, and lakeshores. Unlike the Golden Eagle, the Bald Eagle likes to inhabit places close to the water with tons of coniferous and hardwood trees.
Golden Eagle vs Bald Eagle Similarities
Some similarities between the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle are their size and juvenile color. They both inhabit much of North America; however, they prefer different territories. For example, the golden prefers cliff sides and rocky regions, whereas the Bald Eagle prefers forests and riverside areas.
While Bald Eagles are slightly larger, they both hold close to the same height, weight, and wingspan. Another similarity between the two is their flight pattern. While the golden will migrate across great distances, the Bald Eagle will generally stay where they were born. However, both species fly the same.
Let’s take a closer look:
- Bald Eagle wingspan: 5 – 7 feet
- Golden Eagle wingspan: 5 – 7 feet
- Bald Eagle height: 2.5 – 3 feet
- Golden Eagle height: 2 – 3 feet
- Bald Eagle weight: 6 – 13
- Golden Eagle weight: 4 – 13 pounds
Perhaps the only other similarity between the two is their lifespan. Both eagles live up to 30 years on average. However, both species have been known to live longer.
Golden Eagle vs Bald Eagle Differences
Other differences reside in the eagle’s behaviors, such as perching, diet, and nesting habits.
Diet and Hunting Differences
Golden Eagles feed mainly on small mammals such as hares, rabbits, squirrels, and occasionally prairie dogs. Like the Bald Eagle, a golden will snatch or steal prey from other large birds, including swans, deers, and domestic farm animals.
Bald Eagles mainly prey on fish such as herring, salmon, and catfish. However, the Bald Eagle has been known to prey on smaller birds, crabs, reptiles, and rabbits. Unlike the golden, the Bald Eagle can consume large amounts of food and fast for days or several weeks.
While there is not much of a difference when it comes to perching, Bald Eagles spend about 90% of their day perching in trees to defend their territory. At the same time, Golden Eagles fly more often and perch mainly along cliffs and hills.
Bald Eagles prepare the largest nest of all birds in North America, ranging from four to six feet across and three feet deep. The nest is made from twigs and branches, moss, grass, and cornstalks. Bald Eagles choose to prepare nests near saltwater in the tallest tree they can find (mainly pines and other conifers) – away from predators and danger.
Golden Eagles build smaller nests ranging from three feet across and four feet deep. Their preferred nesting structures are built on cliff ledges and consist of branches, twigs, woodrush, grass, and heather. Unlike the Bald Eagle, the golden will create multiple nests within their home range.
The only thing similar the two species do is they resume their nests from the previous year, and both genders take part in building the nest.
While the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle have different habits, there is still much to know about each species. Here are some frequently asked questions:
Which Eagle is Stronger, The Bald or Golden Eagle?
Bald Eagles can carry no more than 8 pounds at a time, whereas the golden can carry a little more. No eagle can carry more than 12 pounds at once. However, the Golden Eagle will carry more than a Bald Eagle.
Who is stronger? The Golden Eagles are stronger due to their more powerful talons and prey of choice.
Which Eagle is Bigger, The Bald or Golden Eagle?
While the two are very similar in size, the Bald Eagle is slightly bigger than the Golden Eagle. A Bald Eagle’s wingspan can grow up to 7 feet and stand as tall as 4 feet. The tallest Golden Eagle recorded has only been 3 feet with a wingspan of no more than 6 ft.
What is the Largest Golden Eagle Recorded in History?
Female eagles are slightly bigger than male eagles. The largest recorded Golden Eagle was a female who weighed 14 pounds and presented a wingspan of 7.5 feet.
What is the Largest Bald Eagle Recorded in History?
While the most significant Golden Eagle in history was 14 pounds, the largest Bald Eagle recorded was 17 pounds and had a massive 8.2ft wingspan.
How Well Can a Golden and Bald Eagle See?
Both eagles have 20/5 vision – compared to humans, we have 20/20 vision. This means that eagles can see things up to 20 feet away. Both species can see ultraviolet light, making it easier to spot traces of prey left by other predators, such as fur and urine.
Unlike humans, eagles have binocular and monocular vision, which means they can use their eyes separately or together, depending on what they are looking at.
Can Bald and Golden Eagles Swim?
Both bald and Golden Eagles can swim quite well, although they don’t prefer to and rarely do. The main reason eagles will swim is if their prey has gotten away and they need to swim to shore, or if their prey is too heavy and they couldn’t quite grasp it the first time.
Do Bald Eagles Have Predators?
A mature Bald Eagle does not have any predators; however, its chicks are preyed on by bobcats, wolverines, bears, foxes, and other large birds.
Do Golden Eagles Have Predators?
Like the Bald Eagle, a mature Golden Eagle does not have any natural predators; however, its young are preyed on by bears, wolverines, and foxes. The mature Golden Eagle will often become harassed by crows, jays, and other smaller birds.
What is The number of Bald Eagles on Earth?
The population of Bald Eagles left on earth recorded in 2022 is 2,170, while last year, in 2021, there were only 1,850.
What is The Number of Golden Eagles on Earth?
Golden Eagles have a much larger population, recorded to be 20,000 species left.
Summary: Bald Eagle vs Golden Eagle – Key Differences
The Golden Eagle vs. the Bald Eagle has many differences, from size, and appearance, to nesting habits and even diet. While they both inhabit much of North America, the Bald Eagle sticks closer to water, and the Golden Eagle prefers cliffs and rocky regions.
While both eagles mate for life and have the same flight patterns, they’re both distinct in their own nature to survive.