Although the two are often compared, the Golden Eagle is more widespread and formidable than its larger cousin, the Bald Eagle. The birds do look superficially similar, especially when a young Bald Eagle has yet to grow the characteristic white plumage on the head and tail. As the name suggests, the Golden Eagle’s feathers are a dark brown with a golden luster. Brighter gold feathers appear around the bird’s nape and its wings are tipped with black. The talons and bill of the Golden are both smaller and darker than those of the Bald Eagle.
But perhaps the biggest difference between these birds results from their hunting styles. While the Bald Eagle feeds largely on fish, the Golden Eagle is a highly adaptable hunter. Its prey can range from small reptiles to large mammals including deer.
The bird’s abundance, intelligence and excellent hunting skills account for its domestication and admiration by human cultures throughout history. In ancient Greece, the eagle was the symbol of Zeus, the most powerful of the gods. During the Middle Ages, the eagle was trained and used in the art of falconry, often deployed in teams to hunt other predators such as wolves. Today, the image of the Golden Eagle can be seen on several national flags, including those of Mexico, Egypt and Albania. The flag of the US Virgin Islands also displays the bird.
One of the most widespread raptors in the world, the Golden Eagle can be found throughout the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia, parts of northern Africa and the western half of North America. Their habitat can vary as much as their diet, as they can nest in grasslands, tundra, forests and deserts. Both Golden and Bald Eagles prefer to live away from people and are easily stressed by human encroachment. The Golden Eagle is a rare visitor to the Oregon Coast, but is otherwise plentiful east of the Coast Range Mountains.
Common. Although closely monitored, the Golden Eagle population in the United States is thought to be stable with approximately 30,000 birds existing nationwide. The Golden Eagle is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act. All three pieces of legislation prohibit not only the killing of Golden Eagles, but the possession, use or sale of feathers and other body parts.