Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: What Are 7 Key Differences?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: May 28, 2022
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In this article, we will be discussing the differences between a harpy eagle and a bald eagle. Although both are part of the Accipitridae family, a family of carnivorous birds that have hooked beaks, long legs, and rounded wings, these magnificent birds share quite a bit of difference! So, what differences do the Harpy eagle and Bald eagle share? Let’s read and find out!

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: A Comparison

Harpy eagles and bald eagles differ in size, appearance, and diet.

A-Z-Animals.com

Harpy EagleBald Eagle
Size35-40 inches, 11-20 lbs.28-38 inches, 6-14 lbs.
LooksGray head, white body with black wings and breast, black beak, and yellow feetWhitehead, deep brown body and wings, white tail feathers, yellow beak, and yellow feet
WingspanUp to 6.5 feet5-8 feet
BehaviorActive in the daytime, perched high in trees when not hunting for foodFlies over extended periods, stays perched high when not flying or hunting
DietTree dwelling animals such as squirrels, sloths, and other mammalsCoastal or freshwater fish
HabitatsRainforests in Central and South America, large, interrupted forestsAround Lakes, rivers, coastlines, and reservoirs
Conservation StatusNot Extinct, but near threatenedLeast Concern
Harpy Eagle vs Bald Eagle: A Comparison

Key Differences Between Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle

The key differences between the harpy eagle and the bald eagle are their size, appearance, wingspan, habitat, diet, and conservation status. The harpy eagle is one of the larger eagles and may also be one of the largest birds of Central America. It has been said to be one of the largest eagles besides the Philippine eagle. Details of the differences are given below.

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Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Size

The harpy eagle can weigh as much as 20lb.

The harpy eagle reaches a maximum length of 40 inches and typically weighs anywhere from 11 to 20 lb. depending on its gender and habitat.

A bald eagle on the other hand often varies in size. Some bald eagles may range anywhere from 28 to 38 inches in length. While they don’t weigh as much as some harpy eagles, they can often weigh anywhere from 6- 14 lbs. It has been named to be the largest raptor in North America.

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Looks

Another major difference between the harpy eagle and the bald eagle would be their appearance. A harpy eagle is usually a gray-headed and white-bodied eagle with a black breast and black wings. It has large black eyes with a dark, hooked beak and has black or white wings with black stripes and coloration. The talons are often brown, but its feet is yellow. The head of a harpy eagle has a few feathers that often stick up and almost resemble a crown or a headpiece.

The bald eagle is extremely different from the Harpy eagle when discussing appearance. A bald eagle has a white head with a hooked, yellow beak and a set of white tail feathers. Its body and wings are deep brown, and its feet is also yellow. These eagles are not actually bald, it’s just an older term used for “white-headed”.

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Wingspan

bald eagle perched on column
Bald eagle have a maximum wingspan of 8 feet.

iStock.com/emranashraf

The bald eagle’s wingspan can range anywhere from 5 to 8 feet, and this often is helpful because these birds are frequent fliers who can travel long distances for extended periods of time. Although their wingspan is large, it also varies depending on their habitat and location. For example, bald eagles in South Carolina often have wingspans in the 6-foot range, while bald eagles in Alaska are much larger with an 8-foot range.

A harpy eagle’s wingspan is relatively small for one of Central America’s largest birds. It can often extend up to 6.5 feet and is quite broad. This broad wingspan helps it adapt and maneuver through the forests in which it inhabits and hunts.

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Behavior

Harpy eagles prey on free-dwelling animals and have a large set of talons said to carry prey as much as their own body weight. These birds love to dwell high in the trees, in which they use their perch for hunting. Once they find their prey, they swoop down quickly and snatch it from the forest in which they hunt. They are the sit-and-wait type of hunters, scanning the forest trees and grounds for their next meals.

Bald eagles also perch high in trees, but they are also very powerful and frequent fliers. These birds can reach up to 30 mph when gliding or flapping and up to 100 mph when diving! Their migration routes vary and depends on the thermal current of the coastlines in which they travel, meaning that they will often migrate to warmer waters in North America if other waters in the continent are frozen. They usually fly during daylight hours when appropriate thermals are produced by the sun.

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Diet

isolated bald eagle
Bald eagles eat a diet consisting of fish.

Randy G. Lubischer/Shutterstock.com

Diet also varies between the harpy eagle and bald eagle. In fact, because the harpy eagle is usually in Central and South America and dwells within rainforests, you can often find it hunting tree-dwelling mammals such as sloths, monkeys, squirrels, and possums.

A bald eagle’s diet however is composed of mostly fish since it sores over bodies of water. This includes salmon and other freshwater fish, as well as even some saltwater fish that are available.

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Habitat

Harpy eagles love to perch high in trees, however, this is for varied reasons, mostly depending on their habitat! They are native to Central and South America, inhabiting rainforests. Sadly, harpy eagles are practically extinct in Central America due to the loss of rainforest in the area. You can commonly find them in Brazil and anywhere between Mexico and Argentina.

A bald eagle is a United States national bird and is native to North America. You can often find it soaring or perched anywhere near water from Alaska, to across the United States and Northern parts of Mexico.

Harpy Eagle Vs. Bald Eagle: Conservation Status

Harpy Eagle of Panama
Harpy eagle is nearly extinct in Central America.

GeMac/Shutterstock.com

While the harpy eagle is nearly extinct in Central America, there is still some distribution, though its population is dwindling due to climate change and the loss of rainforests. Thus, taking away their habitats and making them susceptible to becoming endangered.

Thankfully, the bald eagle’s population is increasing. In fact, there is an article written by the Smithsonian magazine stating that in Vermont nearly after 35 years of recovery and restoration efforts, the bald eagle is no longer considered endangered.

In Conclusion

close up of a bald eagle
The bald eagle is used as an important symbol in many cultures.

iStock.com/R Lolli Morrow

Although there are many key differences between the harpy eagle and the bald eagle, it does not make either of them any less fascinating! Both species of eagle are incredibly unique in their own ways and offer a lot of beauty to our natural world. There’s a reason the harpy eagle has so many efforts behind its population’s restoration and why the bald eagle is used as an important symbol in many cultures and moments in history.

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.