Red-Tailed Hawk Vs. Golden Eagle: All You Need to Know

An avid observer of birds for a long time, the beautiful red-tailed hawk and the formidable golden eagle have won our hearts. Though they are both apex predators, which raptor is the greatest? This extensive study looks at the distinctions and points of similarity between these two famous birds.

This is a simple response in case you’re pressed for time: The red-tailed hawk is more widely distributed in North America, but the golden eagle is bigger and more formidable overall. The golden eagle is able to take down bigger food, whereas the red-tailed hawk mostly eats small animals.

As apex predators, both birds have significant ecological functions to perform.

Dimensions and Physical Characteristics

Weight and Wingspan

Both the golden eagle and the red-tailed hawk are magnificent raptors that are distinguished by their enormous size and strong wingspan. The golden eagle, one of the biggest birds of prey in North America, may reach a wingspan of up to seven feet, while the red-tailed hawk’s typical wingspan is around four feet.

The golden eagle may weigh up to 15 pounds, whereas the red-tailed hawk usually weighs between 2-3 pounds. Both birds can glide through the air with elegance and agility because to their remarkable size.

Markings and Coloration

The colors and markings of the golden eagle and the red-tailed hawk are quite different from one another. The reddish-brown tail feathers of the red-tailed hawk are what give it its name; they are immediately seen as it is flying.

With a light bottom and black streaks running across its belly, its body is mostly brown in color. The head and neck of the golden eagle, on the other hand, display magnificent golden-brown plumage, while the remainder of its body is a dark brown hue.

These distinct colorings provide good cover while hunting in their different environments.

Beaks, Talons, and Vision

Both the golden eagle and the red-tailed hawk have strong beaks and keen talons, which are necessary for catching and eating their prey. The powerful, curved talons of the red-tailed hawk allow it to successfully seize and paralyze its prey.

It can easily break apart its prey because of its hooked and pointed beak. Similar to this, the golden eagle has strong, curved talons and a formidable beak capable of exerting great force. Apart from their morphological characteristics, these birds possess remarkable eyesight, enabling them to identify tiny prey even at a considerable distance.

The golden eagle is claimed to have eight times the eyesight of a human being, while the red-tailed hawk can detect a mouse from over 100 feet in the air.

Distribution and Habitat

Both the beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk and the Golden Eagle are widespread throughout North America and are examples of raptors. That being said, there are several notable differences in their range and habitats.

Favored environments

Due to its flexibility, the Red-Tailed Hawk may be found in a variety of environments. They are often seen in deserts, meadows, open fields, and even cities. For hunting and nesting, these hawks choose locations with plenty of perches, including trees, utility poles, or fence posts.

The Golden Eagle, on the other hand, usually lives in harsher and more isolated areas. Mountainous areas, such as steep cliffs, canyons, and alpine meadows, are often home to them. For hunting purposes, these birds need large hunting areas, and they often choose environments with a good vantage point that enables them to see possible prey from a distance.

It is noteworthy that there may be overlap between the two species in their favored environments, particularly in regions where their ranges meet. This may result in the two birds meeting up from time to time.

Range of Breeding and Nesting

The breeding range of the Red-Tailed Hawk is extensive, including all of North America. They are found all the way down to Central America from Alaska and Canada. These hawks usually construct their nests in higher trees, and they often use the same nest each year.

They return to their nesting places every breeding season and are renowned for their fidelity to them.

Conversely, the breeding range of golden eagles is more constrained. They are mostly found in western North America, especially in the region around the Rocky Mountains. These eagles construct enormous nests, known as eyries, in trees or on cliffs, and they usually choose isolated areas that provide privacy and safety for their young.

It’s important to note that because of their cultural value and role in preserving ecological balance, both species are legally protected in many nations, including the United States. You may get more information on these amazing birds by visiting the websites of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.

Food and Items for Hunting Prey

A red-tailed hawk mostly eats small animals, including squirrels, mice, voles, and rabbits. They sometimes may also eat amphibians, reptiles, and birds. These hawks are renowned for having excellent vision, which enables them to locate their prey across long distances.

The diet of the golden eagle, on the other hand, is more diverse and includes fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals. They have been seen hunting bigger game, including ground squirrels, jackrabbits, and even juvenile deer. These strong birds are able to defeat many bigger creatures than themselves.

Although both the golden eagle and the red-tailed hawk hunt mammals and birds, the golden eagle is a more adaptable predator due to its larger prey selection.

Hunting Techniques

Red-tailed hawks hunt mostly by perching on tall objects, such utility poles or trees, and looking around them for possible prey. It quickly and precisely descends onto a target after seeing it in order to seize its meal. Stooping is the term for this method of hunting.

However, depending on the kind of prey they are pursuing, golden eagles use a variety of hunting techniques. They may fly low to surprise their prey or soar at great heights, keeping an eye out for activity on the ground.

Golden eagles sometimes participate in cooperative hunting, in which a group of eagles cooperates to take down a bigger target.

Both the golden eagle and the red-tailed hawk are expert hunters that use their distinct hunting techniques to increase their chances of success.

To learn more about these raptors’ hunting patterns, check out the Audubon field guide and National Geographic.

Reproduction and Mating in the Life Cycle

It’s interesting to see how Golden Eagles and Red-Tailed Hawks mate and procreate. To entice a partner, both species put on lavish courting displays. Male Red-Tailed Hawks engage in amazing aerial displays, including daring dives and high-altitude acrobatics.

In order to demonstrate to prospective partners their power and prowess, they frequently participate in territorial flights. These displays help female Red-Tailed Hawks choose their mates.

The Golden Eagle, on the other hand, has a complex aerial courting ritual that includes leaping, diving, and locking talons in midair. Their power and agility are seen in this amazing demonstration. After they have paired up, they usually stay together for life.

To deposit their eggs, both species construct nests. Large stick nests lined with softer materials like grass and feathers are built by Red-Tailed Hawks. Using branches, twigs, and other materials, golden eagles construct enormous nests that may weigh more than a ton.

In both species, the female usually lays two to four eggs, which she then spends about a month incubating. The male feeds the female during this phase of incubation. Until the time comes for the chicks to leave the nest, both parents alternately feed and tend to the eggs after they hatch.


Red-tailed hawk lifespans may vary according on predation, habitat, and food availability, among other things. They survive in the wild for ten to fifteen years on average. Some people have been known to survive up to 25 years, however.

However, the lifetime of golden eagles is greater. They have a 30-year lifespan or more in the wild. In captivity, the oldest Golden Eagle ever documented lived for 46 years. Compared to Red-Tailed Hawks, these magnificent birds reproduce more slowly, which adds to their longer longevity.

It’s crucial to remember that these lifespans are estimates derived from researcher observations and studies. The lifetime of a single bird might vary based on a number of variables.

Status of Conservation Population Trends

When comparing these two magnificent raptors, it’s crucial to take their conservation status into account. The Red-Tailed Hawk and Golden Eagle are examples of spectacular birds of prey. The Red-Tailed Hawk has a steady population trend and is common across North America.

The Audubon Society estimates that there are around two million people living there. For those who love birds and conservation, this is excellent news since it shows that there is a robust and healthy Red-Tailed Hawk population.

Conversely, the Golden Eagle’s range is more constrained, and its population is more susceptible. They are less frequent than the Red-Tailed Hawk, although they are nevertheless found across North America.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology estimates that there are 30,000 or so Golden Eagles in the world. This declining population figure emphasizes how important it is to keep up conservation efforts in order to save this famous species.

Dangers and Safety

Threats affecting the populations of Red-Tailed Hawks and Golden Eagles are common, albeit the particular difficulties they confront are rather different.

Threats to the Red-Tailed Hawk persist even with its steady population. These dangers include illegal shooting, automobile crashes, and habitat loss brought on by development and deforestation.

Nonetheless, these birds are protected by federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it unlawful to hunt, seize, or kill them without a specific authorization.

On the other hand, the Golden Eagle’s more vulnerable population condition is a result of increased dangers it encounters. These dangers include illegal shooting, power line electrocution, and habitat fragmentation.

The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act safeguards Golden Eagles by making it illegal to kill, sell, or possess these birds or their components without a permission.

In order to guarantee the long-term existence of both species, conservation activities are essential. To preserve and safeguard these birds and their habitats, groups like the Raptor Research Foundation and the National Audubon Society put in a lot of effort.

We can contribute to securing a happy future for the Red-Tailed Hawk and Golden Eagle by putting conservation measures in place, conducting research, and increasing public awareness.

Final Thoughts

Even though the golden eagle and red-tailed hawk occupy different ecological niches, both birds are essential scavengers and apex predators. The salient features of size, habitat, hunting tactics, and conservation status that distinguish each species as specifically suited to its surroundings were highlighted in this thorough comparison.

Gaining insight into the unique characteristics of these raptors helps one appreciate the variety of prey-birds in North America.

I'm Nauman Afridi, the bird enthusiast behind Birdsology.com. My lifelong passion for birds has led me to create a space where fellow bird lovers can find valuable insights and tips on caring for our feathered friends. Professionally, I'm a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant, bringing a unique perspective to the world of bird care. Whether you're a novice or an experienced bird owner, Birdsology.com is designed to be a welcoming community for all. Feel free to explore, and reach out if you have any questions or just want to chat about birds.
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