2 Types of Eagles Found in Virginia! (ID Guide)

What types of eagles can you find in Virginia?

common types of eagles in virginia

Whenever they appear, I make sure to stop and watch these incredible birds of prey. I’m always amazed at their beauty, large size, and astonishing ability to soar at extreme heights! And I’m not alone, as eagles have a special place in many people’s hearts and minds. These majestic birds symbolize many things, such as freedom, courage, honesty, inspiration, victory, and pride.

Unlike other raptors, there are not many eagle species that reside in Virginia. In fact, there are only a few species that can be observed on the entire continent.

Below are the TWO eagles that live in Virginia!

Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which eagles live near you! For each species, I have included a few photographs, along with their most common sounds, to help you identify any birds you are lucky enough to observe.

#1. Bald Eagle

  • Haliaeetus leucocephalus

common eagles in virginia

The Bald Eagle is one of the most recognizable birds in the world!

But did you know that the “Bald” portion of their name has nothing to do with not having feathers on their head? As you can clearly see, these eagles have white feathers covering their entire face with no bald spots anywhere. Their name actually stems from an Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch” and refers to their bright white heads.

commons eagles in virginia

While almost everyone knows what a full-grown Bald Eagle looks like, trying to correctly identify juvenile birds is tricky. These eagles don’t get their characteristic white head and dark brown body until they are FIVE YEARS OLD. Until then, these birds have all sorts of different plumages and streaky browns and whites on their bodies. Even their beak changes color! It takes A LOT of practice and experience to identify young Bald Eagles properly!

Bald Eagles are found across Virginia!

After almost going extinct in the mid 20th century due to DDT poisoning, these raptors are a true success story. They are most commonly seen around bodies of water.

Bald Eagle Range Map

The reason that Bald Eagles are found around water is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, coasts, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.

Did you know that Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world?

Their nests start “small,” but eagles add new layers each year. The biggest one EVER found was 10 feet wide (3 meters) and 20 feet tall (6 meters) and weighed in at 3 tons! Bald Eagles would keep adding to their nests each year, but what happens is that the structures get so heavy they eventually fall out of the tree, and the birds have to start over.

YouTube video

Press PLAY above to hear a Bald Eagle!

The Bald Eagle probably doesn’t sound like what you think. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles. In fact, movie directors are so unimpressed with the sounds a Bald Eagle makes, it’s common for them to use the call of a Red-tailed Hawk instead for dramatic effect!

With unmatched eyesight, it is not at all surprising that Bald Eagles hunt from as high as 10,000 feet (3 km) in the air. Their vision is about eight times better than humans. More importantly, these eagles can see into the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum. This adaptation is helpful because it allows them to see past the reflections on the water’s surface and find fish that would otherwise be invisible in the glare.

Length: 28-40 inches / 70-102 cm

Weight: 6.5-15 lbs / 3-7 kg

Wingspan: 71-91 inches / 1.8-2.3 meters

#2. Golden Eagle

  • Aquila chrysaetos

species of eagles in virginia

Golden Eagles are incredibly fast and agile, which makes them expert hunters. Where Bald Eagles mostly eat fish, these eagles almost always eat mammals. Their favorite prey includes rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, marmots, and prairie dogs. But these raptors have been known to hunt and kill animals as large as small deer, seals, mountain goats, coyotes, and badgers!

They have even been known to snatch a bear cub for dinner. Talk about bravery (or stupidity?)! 🙂

Golden Eagles are dark brown with gold feathers on the backs of their necks, which is how they got their name. Juvenile birds have white patches on their wings and tails. Immature Bald Eagles and adult Golden Eagles look similar and can be easily confused.

golden eagle vs bald eagle juvenile - common eagles in virginia

The distinguishing feature between these two birds is that the Bald Eagle doesn’t mind showing a little leg, whereas the Golden Eagle has feathers all the way down to the top of their feet.

These powerful raptors typically mate for life. To impress a female, male birds will pick up a stick or a rock and fly up high, only to drop it. Then the eagle will enter a dive to catch the object again before it hits the ground! Once a pair is together, it’s common for them to hunt cooperatively, where one individual ambushes the prey and drives it towards the second bird to make the kill.

Golden Eagles are known to like cliffs to build their nests on, but also have no problem using trees, observation towers, or nesting platforms. These raptors have even been known to nest on the ground! The most important feature these birds look for when it comes to building a nest is it needs to have a good view of its surroundings.

Golden Eagle Range Map

golden eagle range map

Golden Eagles are not commonly seen in Virginia!

These birds prefer vast open areas such as landscapes that include cliffs, mountains, or hills. You can also spot these birds in grasslands, farmlands, shrublands, arctic tundra, and coniferous woodlands.

YouTube video


These eagles are not extremely noisy, and their calls sound like whistles that are weak and high. Just like Bald Eagles, for such a powerful raptor, you would think Golden Eagles would have a much more intimidating sound!

Length: 26-40 inches / 66-100 cm

Weight: 6.5-16 lbs / 3-7 kg

Wingspan: 71-91 inches / 1.8-2.3 meters

Do you need help identifying eagles?

Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist! (Links below take you to Amazon)

Which of these eagles have you seen before in Virginia?

Leave a comment below!

To learn more about other raptors near you, check out these guides!

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  1. I have at least two adult pair and their offspring in my yard right now eating off of a deer carcass. They are magnificent birds and so interesting to watch and listen to. I live near the Beaver Dam Swamp which feeds the nearby reservoir. Perfect habitat for this birds. We have managed to get a few good pics while they are feeding.

  2. We think we have a golden eagle. Our farm has lots of mice,squirrels and rabbits. The bird is golden red brown and extremely large.

  3. We have several Bald Eagles nesting in the tall pine trees next to our house on the Chesapeake Bay near Kilmarnock VA. I have seen a dozen juveniles and adults flying over our house daily. I find fish skeletons in the yard that I believe they drop. Seeing them dive for a fish is an amazing sight!

  4. Yesterday, I saw the most beautiful site. While driving east on highway 58 between Capron and Emporia, I saw a bald eagle while in flight. The wing span was every bit of 6 to 7 feet! I was able to take a picture, but I wish I would have videoed in instead!

  5. Saw three Bald Eagles today perching and hunting around the moat at Fort Monroe, Virginia today. Was wondering if they were family as they seemed to be sticking together somewhat.

  6. I saw a bald eagle on 8/7/2022. It was flying low, about power pole height, over my pastures so it was easily identified. I live near Lovingston, VA. Lake Nelson and the Tye River are close by. Majestic!

  7. Update: what I assumed were juvenile bald eagles may in fact be golden eagles. Until seeing the differences as described on your website, I just thought they were large juveniles that were more aggressive for food than the adults. The golden eagles and the bald eagles often tussle with each other over the food.

    Very surprised to see golden eagles in Smithfield Virginia

  8. I see eagles regularly in my back yard in Smithfield Virginia
    I leave the remains of deer carcasses in the field outside of my kitchen window. I have counted as many as (11) eagles in a single instance!
    Crows and black vultures typically spot the carcass, then eagles swoop in and take over.
    There are also many eagles to be seen fishing the Pagan River and Cypress Creek at Windsor Castle Park in Smithfield VA. It is popular to kayak the creek and see the eagles up close’ along with many other beautiful waterfowl including snowy egrets an great blue herons.

  9. I was driving west along 64 in western Virginia about 40 miles from the West Virginia border when a golden eagle suddenly appeared in front of my windshield. There was nothing I could do, and I heard a loud sound from the impact. I thought it must surely have died or been injured, but my daughter turned around and saw out the back window that it was still flying. I felt awful about it but relieved to hear that it was still able to fly. I imagine it must have been injured though. I was going about70 mph. It was a huge bird.