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Golden eagles vs. bald eagles — how to tell the difference

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, August 26th, 2008 at 7:10 am in Bald Eagles, Golden eagles.



In case you run across a golden eagle or a bald eagle in the wild, here’s what they look like:



These beautiful golden eagles can be seen just about anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area … sometimes even flying low over the middle of town. I know. Amazing. There are golden eagle nests in open space areas just about everywhere. Mount Diablo has a large population of these wonderful raptors. They can be seen in most of the East Bay Regional Parks. The above golden eagle is perched in a tree on Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. Note the brown body, golden feathers on its head and blue-black beak.



Bald eagles are usually seen flying or perched around one of the many lakes or reservoirs in the area. They are often seen at Lake Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore. There’s a nest there. Also at San Pablo Reservoir and Briones Reservoir. Note the white head, very dark body and large yellow beak which is much bigger than a golden eagle’s beak.

A bald eagle has even been spotted at Lake Herman in Benicia. They are definitely coming back. /Gary



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11 Responses to “Golden eagles vs. bald eagles — how to tell the difference”

  1. Mike "troll" Dame Says:

    as juveniles do either of these beauties have a light colored tail?

  2. Gary Bogue Says:

    Immature bale eagle’s tail feathers look whitish and speckled from below. The immature golden eagle has a white band at the base of its tail feathers. Hope this helps. I suppose the immature bald eagle could fall into the “light colored tail” category. /Gary

  3. Gary Says:

    Do bald and golden eagles hang together, or am I seeing a bald eagle with another (immature) bald eagle. They were on the same tree, different branches, in southern Oregon. I have a close up photo of the golden I could send if you let me know an e-mail address.

  4. Renee Oleari Says:

    Golden Eagle sighting in Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill boarder. I swear – the wing span must have been 4 feet. I saw the shadow first – then saw it fly overhead, and land in a tree. Nice yellow talons, a golden brown color, black and white tail feathers. I think it was a male.

    By far, the biggest raptor I have ever seen.

  5. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Hey, nice tips. I’ll buy a glass of beer to that person from that chat who told me to go to your site :)

  6. Birds of a Feather Says:

    Many people mistake immature Bald Eagles for Golden Eagles. The characteristic white head and all white tail is not seen in Bald Eagles until they hit their 5th year.

    Here’s a great chart to help you better differentiate between the two species:

  7. Sean finn Says:

    I saw a bald eagle at lake Herman today. It was very close and there is no doubt.

  8. Gary Bogue Says:

    Sean: Yours is the 4th report of a bald eagle seen at lake Herman. One had a trout. The bird(s) may have come from Briones reservoir near Orinda … there’s a bald eagle nest there and it’s not far … as the bald eagle flies. /Gary

  9. Brian Hill Says:

    Yesterday I saw a brown bird on the roof across the street eating what looked like some other flying creature (it honestly looked like bat, but it could have been another bird). But it got far into its catch, it flew over to the power line and perched on that to finish it. Several swift breezes made him visibly have to work at staying there – seemed odd.

    I got several pictures but it still look me a while to narrow it down to a Golden Eagle using this:

    I was still in doubt, but reading this blog, I am guessing it very well could have been a Golden Eagle. At least, to me it did not look like an immature Bald Eagle or one of the different hawks that were sorta close matches

  10. Brian Hill Says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention that this is in Eureka Valley in San Francisco. The habitat descriptions for Golden Eagles don’t seem to include urban settings, but we also have Peregrine Falcons downtown.

  11. Jack Hanna Says:

    Thursday, Dec 30 about 10 am in Bethel Island, I saw a Bald Eagle overhead. Driving along Taylor Road, I doubted what I saw. The white head and tail are distinctive. So, the bird was kind enough to take a recon circle between the road and the slough of Bethel Islands Taylor Road/Taylor Slough. I could not deny what I saw. Clearly I saw a mature bald eagle fly overhead near my home in The Delta.
    I am neither ornitholigist or registered birder. But, I do follow birds and do my homework. There can be no confusion between this bird and an osprey, golden eagle, or any other raptor. The spread white tail, the distinct white head and neck and the dark wings can be confused with no other bird I have observed on The Delta or the hills of The East Bay.
    Research tells me that there is a nest between El Sobrante and Orinda in the EBMUD watershed. THis bird was headed generaly toward Mt Diablo, which could be either of the nests I suppose. But, I would love to think that there is another nest on the east side of the mountain.
    Respectfully, H. Jack Hanna (no not of the ohio zoo) The Delta paddleboarder and boater.

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