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Falcon vs. Hawk

Both the falcon and hawk have many features that make them ideal predators: sharp beaks, deadly claws and incredible flying abilities. But how do they differ from one another? Let’s compare the falcon vs. hawk!

falcon vs. hawk

Falcons and hawks are birds of prey; birds of prey are predatory birds that actively hunt and feed on other vertebrates, including other smaller birds, mammals, and reptiles. 

Both these birds have immense speed and strength; they also have excellent eyesight and can spot their prey from far out. They have strong feet with sharp talons for grasping prey, as well as powerful and curved beaks for tearing off the flesh.

Now let us look at the different characteristics of these predatory birds:

Falcon vs. Hawk

                              Hawk                                                                   Falcon

Size12-28 inches Length (large)13-23 inches Length (petite to medium)
ColorBrownish & greyish plumage, pale, striped undersideBlack-barred wings (females), bluish-grey (males)
WingsWide, rounded, short; wingspan 26-63 inPointed, slender, long; wingspan 29-47 in (peregrine)
Head shapeSmooth, pointy headsRound, short heads
HabitatAdaptable; woodlands, forests, rural areas, deserts, fields, mountainous plains, tropical areasUsually open country
TaxonomySubfamilies Accipitrinae and Buteoninae in family Accipitridae and order Accipitriformes; 2 groups; over 250 speciesGenus Falco in subfamily Falconidae, family Falconidae, and order Falconiformes 3-4 groups; 37 species
Killing methodFeet and talonsTooth on beak
DietSmall mammalsGround vertebrates, smaller birds
NestsHigh in treesTree hollows
Flying styleSlow fluttering while flying in circles or brief flapping followed by glidingBrief, rapid flapping, speed of over 100mph


Getting To Know Falcons


Falcons are present in all continents except Antarctica and belong to the genus Falco which includes around 40 different species. A few of the species include:

Peregrine Falcon: is the world’s quickest species of animal. Despite being fast on the wing, they fly at their highest speed when diving. This bird can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph at times. These dives capture prey before it realizes what hit it. 

Seychelles Kestrel: has an average length of just 10 inches and is the smallest of the falcons. Only the Seychelles Islands, off the coast of Africa, is home to these tiny birds. The IUCN categorizes the Seychelles kestrel as vulnerable to extinction (as so many other island-endemic species.)

Gyrfalcon: is on the other end of the size spectrum and is the largest species in the family. They are 2 feet long, and some weigh more than 4 pounds. Due to their size, these birds can hunt a wide range of prey, including gulls, rabbits, and other raptor birds.

Saker falcon: Northern Africa, parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are all home to the Saker Falcon. Sadly, IUCN declared Saker Falcons endangered and are currently threatened by extinction. Some of their biggest threats are the destruction of their habitat and collisions with power lines that result in electrocution.

Adult falcons have slender, tapering wings that allow them to fly quickly and change direction. In their first year of flight, fledgling falcons (young falcons are referred to as fledglings once they make their first flight) have longer flight feathers giving them a more bird-like appearance. More extended features simplify flying while learning the exceptional abilities necessary to become an effective hunter as an adult.

Getting To Know Hawks


Hawks belong to the Accipitridae family, and like falcons, they are present on all continents except Antarctica. There are two groups of hawks, Buteos and Accipitrinae. Buteos, also called buzzards in some parts of the world, typically have solid bodies and broad wings. They can travel farther in open spaces than accipiters because they have considerably longer wings and shorter tails.

Accipitrinae (they include goshawks, sparrowhawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and others), on the other hand, are primarily woodland birds with long tails and very sharp vision.

Habitat of Falcons


Falcons can be found worldwide in many habitats. They reside everywhere, even the Arctic tundra and the desert; these birds inhabit various environments, including grasslands, wetlands, mountains, forests, estuaries, taiga, estuaries scrublands, and more. 

Some species flourish in increasingly urban settings, such as farms, parks, gardens, and crowded cities. Although many species share the same habitat types, each species has a different preference for its habitat.

Habitat of Hawks:


Hawks can quickly adapt to any surroundings. Past research has shown that they prefer an open habitat. They typically prefer to live in areas like deserts and fields where it is more probable that they will find prey. They are also found in mountainous plains and tropical, humid regions since they can survive almost everywhere.

The species live throughout North, Central, and South America, Eurasia, Africa, Australia, and the surrounding islands. Hawk species variety is much greater across South America and Africa than the remainder of their range. Every species has its own range, although numerous species have overlapping populations.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Behavior

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In the hawk’s initial life, it is taken care of by its parents until it leaves home. While still in its fledgling stage, the young hawk will leave its home for the first time when it’s six weeks old. When the bird is older, it starts hunting. 

Unlike other hunter birds (such as the falcon), the hawk kills its prey with its talons. The falcon utilizes its talons to catch the prey. However, it kills the prey with its beak rather than its talons. 

The hawk’s favored time for hunting is typically just before nightfall. Albeit the hawk is known for not being a typical vicious hunter, some are quiet. When it flies, the hawk flaps its wings quickly and then utilizes that momentum to float smoothly through the air.

After closely analyzing the concept of flocking during migration, the conclusion is that birds and other animals use it to increase their chances of survival. It has become evident to observers that a hawk traveling in a flock has a higher possibility of survival than if it traveled solo.

Outside the breeding season, falcons usually live alone, like most birds of prey. Some species do, however, gather near abundant food sources. They scavenge for food and rest on high perches all day long. Some species also hunt around dawn or dusk in the early morning or late evening. Depending on the species and region, some falcons do not migrate, while others participate in either partial or complete migrations.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Reproduction

falcon vs. Hawk

Hawks are known for having a unique mating period. The hawk’s reproduction method differs from most others; males and females will fly in sync as they circle. The male will dive toward the female once they reach a specific height before returning to it. They will continue doing this until the male catches the female, and they start to free fall to the ground. A female hawk will typically lay five eggs in a year.

For about a month before they hatch, the male and female will tend to and care for the eggs. Before the mating season, the male and female create their nest, which they then improve during the nesting season. Some hawk species tend to be monogamous, staying with the same partner their entire lives.

Falcons are monogamous too, and repeatedly breed with the same mate. They often guard a territory in the vicinity of their nesting location. Some species do, however, nest in larger bird colonies. While male falcons search for prey, females are solely responsible for incubation which typically takes a month. Different falcon species take different times to learn to fly.

Nest places for hawks and falcons are almost polar opposites. Hawks construct their nests in a high, predator-free location. Although they prefer to nest in tree hollows, falcons will happily accept bird boxes between ten and thirty feet off the ground. Determining if a nest belongs to a hawk or falcon can also be done by looking at the environment type chosen. Hawks typically stay near the tops of enormous trees.

The ability of falcons to build houses in trees and on cliff ledges and artificial structures like building ledges and bridges is well recognized.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Size


In general, Hawks are smaller birds and have shorter wings than falcons. 

Hawks and falcons exhibit sexual dimorphism just like other raptors do; this is known as polyandry, when two members of the same species display distinct traits other than those related to their reproductive system.

It is imperative to note that hawks vary in size. The roadside hawk, which weighs only 9.5 ounces, is the lightest species. While hawks’ wingspan ranges from 26 to 63 inches, their length can vary from 12 to 28 inches. For instance, the white-rumped ridgway hawk has a 30-inch wingspan and an average length of 14 inches.

The largest species is the Upland buzzard, although the ferruginous hawk is the largest in the USA. They have a wingspan of 60 inches and measure 26 inches long. When fully grown, males weigh only 2.5 pounds, compared to females’ average weight of 4.4 pounds. On the other hand, the ferruginous hawk weighs the same but has larger feet and a larger bill.

Falcon birds, on the other hand, can range from 13 to 23 inches, weighing approximately 1.5 to 3.3 pounds. The largest falcon is the Gyrfalcon which can grow to a size of 2 feet (24 inches) long, whereas the smallest falcon is the Seychelles Kestrel which grows to a length of 10 inches long on average.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Diet


Regarding their diet, hawks are carnivores and consume a variety of smaller animals such as snakes, lizards, fish, mice, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and other small prey on the ground. More specifically, a red-shouldered hawk likes to eat smaller birds like doves and bugs like grasshoppers and crickets.

Falcons are also carnivores, meaning that meat makes up most of their diet. While different species pursue different kinds of prey, most are opportunists and follow whatever is available. While some species focus exclusively on a small number of prey items, the majority consume a wide range of foods.

They hunt on the wing by soaring after prey in the air or diving to capture it off the ground. Birds, mice, rats, rabbits, voles, gulls, other raptors, snakes, fish, insects, frogs, and more are a few of the various prey they hunt.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Life Span


The hawks and falcons have similar life spans because they face identical threats in the wild.

Hawks generally live up to 12 years, although they can grow much older if they remain safe from predators and threats in the wild. 

However, in captivity, where they are safe from all the dangers of the wild and are provided proper nutrition, hawks live up to an average age of 20 years. In some rare cases, hawks have grown as old as 30 years.

Similarly, falcons have an average life span of 12-15 years; due to the threats and predators in the wild, most falcons don’t survive the first year (60 %). This means that six out of the ten falcons that hatch will not survive their first year. 

Similar to hawks, the lifespan of falcons in captivity increases, and the highest recorded age for a falcon in captivity is 25 years.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Flight Speed and Flying Style

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When it comes to flight speed, falcons are much faster than hawks. The peregrine falcon is the fastest bird in the world and can reach speeds of 200 mph, whereas the red-tailed hawk dives at a speed of at least 120 mph. 

The different flying styles of falcons and hawks are because their wings are different. The differences between the falcon’s and hawk’s flight patterns are in the intended uses of the wings. A hawk flutters its wings softly while circling or flapping momentarily before gliding.

An average falcon has a top speed of up to 60 mph, compared to a hawk’s, just around 40 mph. 

Hawks attack with claws, whereas falcons rip their prey to pieces with their beaks. The wings of a falcon appear long and slender, whereas the wings of a hawk appear larger and more rounded. 

The falcon has wings that are perfect for high-speed stopping and diving. They are swift and brief but provide powerful flapping at over 100 mph, with the peregrine falcon diving at 180 to 200 mph.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Migration


The hawk migrates in the spring and autumn, as many birds do. Different types of hawks migrate at various times throughout each season. August marks the start of the autumn migration season, which ends in mid-December. 

Some migration distances are longer than others. While short-distance travelers start much later, long-distance travelers typically begin in early autumn. Therefore, the earlier the bird starts its journey, the greater the distance. Studies on the efficiency and speed of the bird’s migration have demonstrated that a hawk often arrives first. The first bird to arrive can choose their preferred mate, habitat, food source, and other essentials for survival.

The hawk’s flight direction is one of the most crucial aspects of its migration because the bird’s route could significantly impact its migration. Depending on the wind’s direction, the force of the wind could either knock the bird off course or propel it in the right direction. A hawk will try to avoid significant water bodies in the spring and fall by flying along a border or around a lake.

Falcons can be either migratory or non-migratory. When the weather gets colder during the winter, falcon birds will migrate seasonally in search of a warmer area. Even though some migratory species only travel to the southern United States, they frequently travel to Central or South America. It’s interesting to note that some falcons never migrate.

For example, some North American peregrine falcons live year-round in Alaska, the Midwest, the Northeast, the Southwest, and the western coastline. Other peregrine falcons migrate yearly from South America and the Gulf Coast to the Alaskan tundras.

Falcon vs. Hawk: Appearance

falcon vs. Hawk

Falcons and hawks are often confused between each other due to their similar appearance; however, when observed closely, there are several differences:

Both birds have similar colors. To tell the difference, one should examine their plumage, wings, and underbelly since the details of their patterns matter. 

Hawks have grayish and brownish feathers, while falcons have bluish-gray feathers with a pale, striped underside. Female falcons also have black bars on their wings.

Depending on the species, there are some other differences. Red-tailed hawks, for instance, have brown cheeks and a white belly band, while peregrine falcons have a continuous stripe behind their malar lines and white cheeks.

The distinctive characteristics of their wings are another obvious sign of difference. The hawk’s wings are short, wide, and rounded, whereas the falcon’s wings are long, slender, and pointed, as is evident even at a cursory glance. Some hawk species also have distinct feathers on the ends.

Another difference in their appearance is their head shape. The heads of the hawk and the falcon appear to be highly similar at first glance. They do, at least, until you get a closer look. If you look at the outline without the beak, you can see that the hawk’s head is long and slender, and the falcon’s head is round and short.

The Final Word:

falcon vs. Hawk
Key Points
Falcons and hawks are birds of prey. Both these birds are deadly predators with immense speed and strength.
Falcons exist worldwide in many habitats and exist on every continent except Antarctica. On the other hand, Hawks prefer open habitats like deserts and fields.
In general, Hawks are smaller birds than falcons. Hawks are large birds but have shorter wings than falcons. Hawks and falcons exhibit sexual dimorphism just like other raptors do.Their length can vary from 12 to 28 inches. Falcon birds, on the other hand, can range from 13 to 23 inches.
Falcons and hawks are often confused between each other due to their similar appearance; however, when observed closely, several differences can be found in their patterns, colors, wings, and head shape.
Both these birds are apex predators and can be equally dangerous with their different hunting techniques, in which hawks primarily use their talons to kill, and falcons primarily use their beaks.

In conclusion, hawks and falcons are birds of prey that slightly resemble one another, but the reality is that they are different species and are unique in their particular ways. 

Falcons are typically smaller but also faster. The hawks have more raw power as they’re bigger. Both these birds are apex predators (on top of their food chains) and can be highly dangerous with their different hunting techniques Hawks primarily use their talons to kill and falcons primarily use their beaks.

Thank you for reading this article on the falcon vs. hawk! Two other birds that are frequently confused is the emu and the ostrich. Read this article to learn how to differentiate between them.

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