Golden Eagle In Flight – A Three Image Series (+1)

Any day I see eight Golden Eagles is a good day for me. Some weren’t close, some were in poor light and others just didn’t cooperate but this one mostly came through for me. So yes, despite the rigors of a six hour drive with an aching bad back, some inexplicably soft shots, the lack of other birds and multiple dumbasses driving close behind me in the dark with their bright lights on – yesterday was a good day.


1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

This adult was perched on a power pole when it took off at a near-perfect angle for multiple takeoff and flight shots in warm, morning light. I was able to get 33 photos during the process but typical of my track record with Golden Eagles something went wrong with most of them – wires in the way, clipped body parts, wings obscuring the head, poor wing positions etc.

This photo isn’t quite as sharp as the others below (I had to sharpen more than I like to during processing) but I do like the peekaboo flight posture.



1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Since the sun was still low in the sky I was able to get good light and detail on the entire bird which I find very difficult to do because this species is so large and dark. Of course the wings-up flight posture helped in that regard…



1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

as did this wings-down posture eight frames later as the eagle began to gain elevation.

I’m not a huge fan of featureless sky backgrounds but just the fact that this is my old nemesis species I can mostly overlook that in this situation. In my experience good light is more essential with this species than any other I regularly photograph. I had several other potentially productive encounters with Golden Eagles later in the morning but by then the sun was higher in the sky and I’m not very happy with how most of those turned out.


PS – As an afterthought I decided to include one more shot of this eagle taken very soon after takeoff. I butchered it by cutting off the wings but I think it’s interesting for a couple of reasons.


1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

These two starlings didn’t even flinch as the huge eagle lumbered by very close to them as it took off. I’m shooting at an effective 1120 mm and at those focal lengths my depth of field is extremely shallow. The starlings are sharp enough to tell me that they’re very close to the eagle, probably close enough to feel the huge bird’s wing turbulence, but they still didn’t budge (they were still on the wire in the next two shots in the burst). I’m sure they instinctively knew that the eagle wouldn’t attempt an aggressive move toward them and even if it did they were fast and agile enough to easily make their escape.

The image also demonstrates how huge Golden Eagles are relative to starlings (and we can’t even see the eagle in its entirety). That’s something you’d expect from a bird that is 56 times heavier than a starling (4575 grams versus 82 grams) but I think it’s pretty dramatic to experience that difference visually in a single photo.


42 comments to Golden Eagle In Flight – A Three Image Series (+1)

  • suzanne Mcdougal

    Love the last shot. Raptor feet are just so….dancer like. They are always completely involved in whatever “dance” is gong on. I love the lighting on all the shots. Golden hour.

  • Dick Harlow

    I’m late, busy day! However, had to reply to these shots.
    Of course I’m easy to please as you probably have gathered. Fantastic shots, beautiful settings, catchlight in each. As much as I like the single flight shots, I really like the last one even though the starlings were soft. There is something to smile about with that last shot.

  • Alice Beckcom

    What a grand and beautiful bird. You are so lucky to have seen these birds and get such great photos [that we all get to enjoy].

    The dark brown mixed in with a lighter color is gorgeous. I took a while to post because it is hard to find words to describe the ‘wonder’ of this bird and the photos you were able to capture.

    Ron, thanks so much for the photo and narrative.

  • Joanne OBrien

    Thanks for sharing these great photos! What a beautiful bird.

  • Look at those talons! If I were a starling, I would have been CLENCHED up. LOL

  • Marty K

    EIGHT Goldies in one trip!?!?!?!? Kermit flail and Snoopy happy dance!!! Any shot of a Golden is a perfect shot in my book! As Dick says, VBG!!! 😀 (Can you tell that you’ve made my day? 😉 )

    • They made my day too, Marty.

    • Laura Culley

      Marty, one of the most favorite day of my life was watching a pair of goldens take down a pronghorn in Wyoming!! FIERCE!!!
      Sorry to be late…massive MS Update and I’m just now recovering my old dysfunctional email and web. SIGH.

  • Trudy Brooks

    Thank you Ron, those are good shots. Love, Love, Love them. Took some pictures a few weeks ago of a Bald Eagle and what I thought a younger one, but could have been a Bald Eagle. My pictures are not that clear. Is it possible the two would hang out on the same tree limb? The Bald one flew away when I stopped to take a picture. The other Eagle did have white on the front of it. Not an expert on them.

  • Laura Culley

    WOW! Allow me to begin breathing again–these shots take my breath away, as goldens are wont to do whenever I get the treat to see them. There’s just something super special about them, and as usual, your images are outstanding. What amazing detail! Thank you so much for sharing them this morning!
    An MS Update awaits me. Wonder what fresh hell that will bring.

  • Marina schultz

    Yes golden eagles are always a plus !! A big one at that!!!! Gorgeous pictures !!

  • I am a happy camper! Love the first because it shows the bird’s focus and power, the second because it shows those terrible talons, the colors and feather details, and the third because it shows the size of this huge, beautiful bird and the amazing nonchalance of the small birds, the starlings. The are great!!! Thank you!!!

  • Barbara

    Beautiful. Have only ever seen them in a zoo and unless I travel, will not see one in the wild. Only have bald eagles here in Florida.

  • Susan Stone

    I guess I’ve always figured that Goldens are a solid brown, but clearly they are far from that. Love the feather detail you’ve captured. I also like the size comparison with Starlings. It’s nice that you had a good day with Goldens.

    • “I’ve always figured that Goldens are a solid brown”.

      Susan, juveniles can even have a fair amount of white on them, especially under their wings and tail.

  • Linda Berkemeier

    After quickly learning to id immature Golden Eagles after seeing one flying next to our car on a hill slope in at Malheur, followed by three more overhead, we were amazed to find two adults in tree tops at a cemetery next to the Burbank Airport in mid-November.
    We were not prepared to photograph either time, even poorly. Thanks for the magnificent reminders of those nirdd.

  • Judy Gusick

    What a GORGEOUS bird, Ron! You really captured the coloration that so often doesn’t show up well due to with the high contrast between sky and bird – too dark. 🙂 The last photo is still neat giving perspective as to it’s size relative to the starlings as well as the huge talons and feathers clear down to their feet. I know even the balds amaze me when on the ground on a deer(road kill) as to how HUGE they really are! Has me grinning ear to ear this morning!

    • Yup, exposure on Goldens is very difficult, at least in part for the reason you mention, Judy. The low sun angle and golden light really helped here.

      Wish I could see your grin!

  • Shirley

    I am impressed Ron! Lovely shots so quit picking on yourself, pat yourself on the back cause I can’t reach. In the first shot I am amazed that there isn’t a shadow on the head, it is back from that allowing a nice catch light in the eye. I can see from your shots that the bill appears quite different between the Golden & the Bald Eagles. I will keep on hanging out with you as I learn something new every day, thank you so much.

    • Yes, among other things the bill of Bald Eagles is relatively larger than that of the Golden (just as it is in most species of fish-eating eagles).

      It’s hard to not “pick on myself” when I screw up shots of Golden Eagles. For me good opportunities with them are a rarity…

  • Charlotte Norton

    How exciting and what a wonderful series Ron!


  • Awesome photos that really captured the variations of gold and brown on these majestic raptors Ron. I think they are one of the hardest birds to get exposure right and you nailed it here. I am curious if you spot meter some test images on a target using aperture priority before hand Ron, and if so what type of “test target” (grey) or (brown)? My guess is a grey target, which is why the color/exposure comes out so well for you.
    Thanks !

    • “I think they are one of the hardest birds to get exposure right”

      Boy, are you ever right about that, ED! For me no other species even comes close to the difficulties of getting proper exposure on Golden Eagles (though Bald Eagles can be difficult too).

      It depends on the situation. When I have homogeneous sky backgrounds I usually just fire a test shot at the sky as I’m approaching the bird. If the sky looks right in the test shot the exposure on the bird is usually pretty close to right as long as the bird has good light on it. Then if the bird gives me enough time to take multiple shots I’ll take a quick look at the exposure on my screen. I seldom use the histogram to make that determination. I just do what (usually) works for me.

      • Thanks Ron, I will have to try that approach. I find it hard to get the GOEA exposed correctly and still have some color in the sky, in the clear blue sky of NM it works best, however if there is any haze it really seems to show up.

  • Nancy Blake

    Wow! These are super shots! The talons on that eagle are stunningly huge. I hope to see a Golden some day, never mind eight. I continue to enjoy your blog and learn something new every day. Many thanks!

  • Jerilyn Duefrene

    Beautiful photos! I have never seen a Golden Eagle before! Thank you for sharing these photos!