Skip to main content
sdzglibrarybanner San Diego Zoo Global Library

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

AttributeMaleFemale
Weight 2.8 -4.6 kg (6-10 lb) 3.6-6.7 kg (8-15 lb)
Body Length 75-90 cm (2.5 - 3 ft)
Wingspan 190-227 cm (6.2 - 7.5 ft)

General Appearance

(Brown & Amadon 1968; Edwards & Kochert 1986; Johnsgard 1990; Thiollay 1994; Watson 1997; Bedrosian et al. 2008)

  • A large, dark brown raptor often seen flying with wings held in a shallow "V" with outer primary feathers spread
  • Pale yellow or tawny plumes on the back of the head give the species its name
  • Feathered legs (tarsi) and a wing length of at least 550 mm are a defining feature of this raptor (Johnsgard 1990)

Sexual Dimorphism

(Brown & Amadon 1968; Edwards & Kochert 1986; Johnsgard 1990; Thiollay 1994; Watson 1997; Bedrosian et al. 2008)

Female is larger - "reverse sexual dimorphism" (Bedrosian et al. 2008)

  • Females often 40% heavier than males (Edwards & Kochert 1986)
  • Female wing length up to 10% greater than male's (Watson 1997)
  • Degree of overall dimorphism moderate compared to other raptors (Brown & Amadon 1968)
  • An exceptionally large female captured in Wyoming weighed 7,200 g (about 16 lb) (Bedrosian et al. 2008)

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

(Brown & Amadon 1968; Edwards & Kochert 1986; Johnsgard 1990; Thiollay 1994; Watson 1997; Bedrosian et al. 2008)

Plumage and molting

  • As one of the "booted" eagles, feathers extend down the legs (tarsi) to the feet
  • Adult plumage dark brown except for golden rear crown, throat and sides of neck
  • Gray bars on tail
  • Juvenile plumage (first year) darker, with white at base of secondaries and primaries; base of tail white with dark terminal band
  • Adult plumage by 5th summer
  • Molting begins in April, peaking by July or August; lasts more than one year (Watson 1997)
  • Feet yellow 
  • Iris yellow or hazel to dark brown
  • Bill black to bluish slate-black
  • Distinguished from immature bald eagle by: (Clark & Wheeler 1987) (Watson 1997)
    • White restricted to base of flight feathers; bald eagle - scattered white feathers
    • Bald eagle has no feathers on legs
  • Similar looking species: (Cornell Ornithology Lab 2011)
    • Immature Bald Eagle - wings flat when soaring; legs bare; white scattered over body and wings
    • Turkey Vulture - wings held up and may tilt sideways, back and forth when soaring; no white spots on top of wings
    • Immature California Condor - larger with white wing linings but no white on flight feathers

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

SDZG Library Links