My whole life I have heard the fight: Chevy is the only truck to have and Ford stinks; or Ford rocks, I wouldn’t own a Chevy if my life depended on it. Well the fight is not so bad with birds, but I have engaged in a few “balds are better than goldens” arguments to no avail. Each bird trainer has his or her favorites. Balds and goldens have different personalities, temperaments, and lifestyles that affect their lives in captivity.
Within the range of size and weight, Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are the same. As with most birds of prey, the females are larger than the males. Golden Eagles eat mammals, whereas, Bald Eagles are usually fish eaters, which is why they possess larger bills. Golden Eagles chase down their prey and have a slightly longer tail for steering. Bald eagles catch fish close to the surface of the water and need to compensate for light refracting in water to target their prey. Both hunting styles are difficult, but golden handlers seem to feel chasing down prey is nobler. In addition, balds tend to scavenge and pirate some of their food (not very noble), but I have seen many a golden on a road killed deer.
For me, it is their personalities. I have worked extensively with both species, and I prefer Bald Eagles. Golden Eagles are solitary birds, only tolerating their mate. Although highly competitive with each other, Bald Eagles are more social and tolerable of other balds. Observing the two eagles in rehab, I notice goldens preferred to be off by themselves, but balds usually made “friends”. While working at the Alaska Raptor Center, there would be 5-10 eagles kept in a mews or flight cage, and over time, certain birds would “hang out” with each other. Unless sick, rarely would a bald keep to itself. In close confines, I notice a pecking order amongst the Bald Eagles. Adult females at the top, then subadult females, adult males, and at the bottem of the totem pole are subadult males. If a subordinate bird got too close or irritated a dominate bird the first communication is a stern look. If that did not convince the irritator to move away, a quick “peck” on the face might. If the offending bird did not retreat, then the dominant bird would either grab the offender or push it away with its foot, sometimes pushing it off the perch entirely.
When manning or training a raptor to sit nicely on the gloved arm of a handler, both eagles show their irritation at the handler by squeezing with their feet. If the bird felt pushed, then goldens tended to be more forceful with their feet, but balds tend to reach down and give the handler a peck on the face. A bit disconcerting since the peck is often by the handler’s eye. Both birds are a joy to work with once you develop a close working relationship, I am just partial to sea eagles.
In fact, my favorite bird on the planet is the Steller’s Sea Eagle. I have wanted to see this bird in the wild for a very long time. I know one day I will, but for now, I visit the birds that have recently been added to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA. I have visited twice this year and find that they are quite similar in personality with their close cousin the Bald Eagle. Their facial expressions and body language is similar and I find it quite different from that of Golden Eagles. Watch my Youtube of a Steller’s taking a bath.