Two species of eagles are found in North America---the golden eagle and the bald eagle. Both are skilled hunters and birds of prey, although one will often resort to stealing food from other raptors when the situation arises. The bald eagle is the national emblem of the United States, while the golden eagle earned the same honor in Mexico.
The golden eagle and bald eagle are similar in size, both weighing six to 14 pounds. The bald eagle, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, can measure as long as 37.8 inches, while the golden eagle's maximum length is slightly less. However, the golden eagle possesses a larger wingspan, in the range of from 72.8 to 86.6 inches. The bald eagle has a wingspan of about 80 inches.
The bald eagle has a dark brown body, but the tail and the head are white; the white head gives the bird its name. The bald eagle has a sturdy yellow bill. The golden eagle is all brown, with the head and nape of the neck a tawny shade. The bill on the golden eagle is typically darker than that of the bald eagle. Both birds have sharp talons and hooked bills.
The bald eagle inhabits wooded regions in close proximity to large waterways and lakes, spending the winter in coastal locations or near rivers and lakes that fail to freeze over. The bald eagle's range covers much of Canada and the United States. The golden eagle is much more common in the western half of North America, with only occasional sightings of the bird in the eastern sections. This raptor prefers mountain forests, tundra and open prairies where it can hunt.
The diet of the bald eagle is mostly fish, which the bird snatches from the water in flight. Bald eagles often steal the catch of another large bird of prey called the osprey. Bald eagles also eat carrion, as well as small mammals and other birds. The golden eagle seldom will dine on carrion, instead relying on its ability as a hunter to find and kill animals as large as groundhogs, foxes, skunks and squirrels. The bald eagle's diet often forces it to migrate away from cold winters, but the golden eagle often stays on, using its hunting skill to kill a variety of prey.
The North American eagles construct large nests from sticks and twigs. The bald eagle normally builds its nest in a very tall tree, seldom constructing a nest a cliff or on the ground. The golden eagle usually builds its nest on a cliff ledge. Very few build their nests in trees. Both species reuse nests if they find them in good condition from year to year.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Golden Eagle
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Bald Eagle
- Bald Eagle Info: Golden Eagle
- "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds"; John Bull and John Farrand Jr; 2008
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