It has brown body plumage with a conspicuously pale head and neck which can be almost white in older birds, and the tail feathers of adults are white. In flight it has massive long, broad wings with 'fingered' ends. Its head protrudes and it has a short, wedge-shaped tail. The bill is big and yellow. Juvenile birds have darker plumage and have black tip of the beak.
Adults are typically solitary or in pairs. Resident birds often roost and loaf close to the nest throughout the year. Juveniles sometimes gather in loose associations of up to 10 individuals. Concentrations of 30-40 have been recorded at roosts and at locally abundant food sources. Pair-bond is strictly monogamous and life-long. If one of the pair dies, though, replacement can occur quickly. Age of initial pair formation is probably around 5 years of age when a permanent home-range is first chosen. They have a characteristic aerial courtship display which culminates in the pair locking claws mid-air, whirling earthwards in a series of spectacular cartwheels, and separating sometimes only a few feet above the ground or water and soaring upwards again. The breeding season is characterised by frequent loud calling, especially by the male in the vicinity of the eyrie, sometimes taking the form of a duet between the pair. When in direct competition for carcasses in the winter, golden eagles are strongly dominant over white-tailed eagles.