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Falcon vs Hawk: Key Features To Differentiate Them

Dark brown falcon bird

Last Updated: May 20, 2022

What birds give you a hard time trying to ID them?

It must be falcons, hawks, and eagles. 

They are all raptors.

And they fly in an almost similar style.

What do you know about their plumage, nesting, mating habits...? Which one do you think is faster? Before we learn more about each bird, below are the highlights in the hawk vs falcon debate.

Main Differences Between Hawk Vs Falcon

The main differences between falcon vs hawk are:

  • A falcon can fly up to 60 miles per hour, whereas a hawk manages under 40 miles.
  • A falcon tears prey apart using its curved beak, whereas a hawk attacks its prey using talons (claws).
  • A falcon's wings appear long, thin, yet pointed in flight, whereas a hawk's wings look wide and round.
  • Falcons have some of the smallest diurnal raptors like the American kestrels and pygmy falcon, whereas the ferruginous hawk ranks as one of the largest raptors.

That's how you can differentiate between a falcon and a hawk.

Now, let's discover more facts about these two birds.

Interesting Facts About The Hawks

Red hawk flying

Hawks belong to the order of  Falconiformes, under the Accipitridae family, together with eagles, vultures, and kites. It's the largest family in the order, boasting 217 species.

This raptor uses its powerful claws to kill prey. It then carries the flesh away to tear it apart with its beak. It loves to surprise its prey. Therefore, it perches on a branch then stealthily glides through trees.

Rodents are almost always the target, but some species like the accipiter hawk prey on reptiles and other birds.

A hawk has excellent hearing. Further, its sharp eyesight helps it spot prey miles away.

You can tell a female hawk from other raptors because it's larger than a male hawk, a condition called sexual dimorphism.

Another difference between a hawk and a falcon is the plumage. Hawks tend to have gray and brown shades above with a pale white plumage below, yet falcons have dark brown shades.

Also, this bird's eyes are large; they barely move in the socket. They are colorful with bits of yellow, red, and brown.

Mating And Nesting

Hawks are monogamous like most of the raptors. The large ones lay fewer eggs, one to two only, but small hawks can lay up to five eggs. On average, they incubate these eggs for a maximum of six weeks. A hawk builds its nest, which is another difference between hawk and falcon. 

Other Facts To Note

  • Builds a nest on a cliff or a large tree
  • It can return to the same nest
  • Lays its eggs in intervals, such that hatchlings have different ages
  • Males bring food for the incubating or brooding females

Fun Fact: Know more about this sophisticated predator as one of the ruler hawks in Massachusetts that aviary enthusiasts enjoy watching!

Facts To Note About The Falcons

White and Yellowish falcon

A falcon belongs to the Falconiformes order too. However, it's in the Falconidae family, which is another difference between falcon and hawk. There are about 60 species in this family, and they include caracara.

A falcon loves avian prey like songbirds. It also eats squirrels, bats, geese, and waterfowl. It either outflies its prey or folds its wings and stoops (dives) at over 200 miles per hour.

The notched beak of a falcon tears the animal apart fast to prevent unexpected flight through the trees as the prey fights for its release.

That being so, the falcon is one of the few birds used by hunters for over a century because it would hunt and bring the prey.

Something else to bring to the hawk vs falcon debate is the color of the eyes, as falcons have dark eyes. On top of that, this bird sits upright when it perches. It's an excellent position for you to catch a glimpse through your binoculars.

Falcons love solitary living though some may form social bonds.

Lastly, you can spot the peregrine falcon everywhere except in the southernmost continent; Antarctica.

Mating And Nesting

A falcon can deposit its eggs in the abandoned nest of another bird like the golden eagle or nest on a cliff. It can also inhabit the holes a woodpecker leaves behind or nest boxes.

Other Facts To Note

  • A gyrfalcon's size is about 25 inches (the largest falcon)
  • When mating, the males bring prey to female falcons and accompany the treats with impressive acrobats
  • Both sexes share the incubation process, though the female does more work

Fun Fact: There are other interesting articles like this and one of them is about the grackle vs starling comparative write-up. Take a peek into their habitats, behaviors, and lifespans.

Popular Questions About Falcons And Hawks

How Can You Tell A Falcon From A Hawk?

If it's in motion, gauge the speed as falcons are faster than hawks. Also, when you see it dive, you'll know a falcon as it has a stunning dive at top speed.

Another feature is the eyes. As we've mentioned above, a hawk's eyes have shades of yellow, red, and brown, but a falcon's eyes are dark.

Lastly, if you're looking at both male and female birds, though the female birds are bigger for both, female hawks are the biggest.

Which One Is Faster, Hawk Or Falcon?

Hands down, a falcon will outrun a hawk. When it's doing over 60 miles per hour with its strong nostrils allowing it to breathe in motion, the hawk will be gliding at about 40 miles per hour. Consequently, a falcon beats all other fast species to rank as the world’s fastest bird.

Watch the video of one of their most common species, the peregrine falcons:

Falcon Vs. Hawk, Who Would Win?

As we have noted above, falcons are faster; therefore, they would win when comparing the speeds of these two birds. However, when we look at the ability to nest, hawks build theirs from scratch, so they win that round.

In terms of giving you an unforgettable birding experience, falcons are spectacular at diving, so you can watch them for hours as they stoop to catch songbirds or waterfowls. 

In Conclusion

You'll love watching a falcon or hawk in action. A falcon will impress you with its speed and dive, but a hawk won't disappoint by showing you its ability to hunt using claws.

A hawk prefers to glide and then watch its prey from a tree. In contrast, a falcon rarely gives a scene a second glance. As a hawk shreds its prey with claws, a falcon uses its strong beak. You'll spot about 17 species of hawks in North America and about seven species of falcons.

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