What Is the Difference Between a Bald Eagle & a Golden Eagle?

By Charles Mathewson
These two eagles share size and national stature.

Ornithologists categorize bald eagles and golden eagles as very large raptors with hooked beaks, long and broad wingspans, and long broad tails. Nations have chosen each bird as their national symbol. They each hunt, mate for life, and live long. They differ in appearance, diet and geographic distribution.

Bald Eagle Basics

The bald eagle has eyesight good enough to locate a fish up to a mile away and the flying abilty to descend up to 100 miles per hour to catch it in its talons.

Bald eagles are not bald. Adults have a full head of white feathers above a body of black feathers. The young, mottle-headed birds will have a lifespan in the wild of 30 to 35 years. Some in captivity have lived to 50 years. This eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) lives only in North America. The mature males weigh approximately 9 lbs.; their mates weigh between 12 and 13 lbs. They have a wing span of up to 7 feet. They feed primarily on fish, but will also eat carrion.

The Bald Eagle in Context

The United States chose the bald eagle as its national symbol. It won that honor over Benjamin Frankilin's nomination of the wild turkey. The bird's symbolic status helped save the bird from extinction. Once considered on the verge of going the way of the carrier pigeon, this bird population enjoyed protection under the federal endangered species act. The government removed the bird from the list of threatened species in June, 2007.

Golden Eagle Basics

The golden eagle has a wider range and diet than the bald eagle.

Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) live throughout the northern hemisphere, most prolifically in the western U.S. and Eurasia. They live to 30 years in the wild and up to 55 years in captivity. These birds weigh up to 13 lbs. and have a wingspan of 7 1/2 feet. They have brown-colored feathers with gold feathers on the back of their heads. Hunting mainly medium-sized mammals, golden eagles will also feed on reptiles, other birds and carrion. They prefer open terrain, making nests in cliffs near deserts, plateaus and steppes.

The Golden Eagle in Context

The people of Mexico adopt the golden eagle as their national symbol. Ornithologists rank the golden eagle closer to hawks than to bald eagles. The people of Eurasia have used them as tamed birds of prey. The birds have become threatened by human activity in Eastern Europe, provoking protection measures similar to those for the bald eagle in the U.S.

About the Author

Charles Mathewson is a freelance writer residing in Plymouth, Mass. He worked as a newspaper reporter and editor beginning in 1988 for "Memorial Press Group" in Plymouth, Mass. and the "Brockton Enterprise." He has also published on Patch.com. Mathewson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Goddard College. He was selected to participate in the Nieman Seminar for Narrative Editors at Harvard University.