The main difference between the bald and golden eagles is their coloring. Bald eagles look almost black, but they have a dark brown body contrasted by their white head, which makes them appear darker. The golden eagle is brown, but with golden highlights on the back of the head and neck. Protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 – and amended multiple times since then – it is against the law to "pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture trap, collect, molest or disturb these birds, their nests and their eggs." Violations of the Act can result in fines of up to $100,000, imprisonment for one year or both.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
When comparing the golden eagle vs bald eagle visually, the bald eagle is bigger and has a white head instead of a golden-speckled one.
Feather Coloring and Family Lines
A juvenile golden eagle looks almost like an immature bald eagle when they are both young, because both have a brown head and body with white patches. Bald eagles don't gain their distinctive head and body coloring until they reach about five years old. Even though both birds are eagles, the bald eagle likes to hunt fish, similar to related birds such as kites, while birds in the red-tailed hawk family are more closely related to golden eagles.
Distinctive Identifying Features
The bald eagle has a bigger head and a large, yellow-hooked beak, compared to the golden eagle's smaller head and black-hooked beak. When golden and bald eagle fledglings just learn to fly, most people confuse the two birds, although juvenile golden eagles have distinctive white patches on their tail and wings, which can be used to distinguish between the two birds.
The immature bald eagle also has white patches, but his feathers appear as if they ran into a can of white paint, picking up some haphazard splatters. The golden eagle has feathers that give it the appearance of wearing boots all the way to its talons, while the bald eagle's feathers stop short and you can see bits of its legs and all of its talons.
Golden Eagle Wingspan and Nesting
The golden eagle wingspan in flight has a slightly different shape than that of a bald eagle. Golden eagles have a slight V in their wingspan, while the bald eagle's wings create more of a straight line in flight. Golden eagles populate the western half of the United States and create nests close to their hunting grounds – alongside mountain cliffs, escarpments, near vegetated grassland, chaparral or forest areas – where they eat hares and rabbits, ground squirrels and other small-to-medium sized critters.
Golden eagles typically build their nests in tall trees next to their feeding grounds, which include rivers, lakes and streams. They prefer fish but also eat other birds, reptiles, amphibians, crabs and small mammals, including muskrats and rabbits. As adults, both birds do not have any natural predators.
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Golden Eagle
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Golden Eagle Life History
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Bald Eagle
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Bald Eagle Life History
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Eagle Permits
- Draper Natural History Museum Buffalo Bill Center of the West: How Golden and Bald Eagles are Different
About the Author
As a journalist and editor for several years, Laurie Brenner has covered many topics in her writings, but science is one of her first loves. Her stint as Manager of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in California's gold country served to deepen her interest in science which she now fulfills by writing for online science websites. Brenner is also a published sci-fi author. She graduated from San Diego's Coleman College in 1972.