Falcon Vs Hawk: Key Facts And Differences 

falcon vs hawk

Hawks and falcons are two incredible groups of raptors, but what are the differences between them? In this article, we will compare falcon vs hawk so that you can learn a little more about these fascinating animals. 

This article will also help you to identify these birds more easily out in the field by teaching you more about the difference between hawk and falcon:

  • Taxonomy
  • Flight
  • Speed
  • Physical differences
  • Nesting behavior  

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Falcon Vs Hawk: Key Facts And Differences

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Falcon Vs Hawk: What The Scientists Say

Although they may look pretty similar to the untrained eye, these birds are actually not all that closely related to each other. 

This is because falcons and hawks actually have two very different family trees. While both groups of birds fall under the class of Aves, hawks are members of the Accipitriformes order and the Accipitridae family. Falcons, on the other hand, are part of the Falconiformes order and the Falconidae family. 

Furthermore, all falcons are part of the Falco genus, while there are quite a few different hawk genera, including Accipiter, Buteo, and others. 

Falcon Vs Hawk: Flight

When seen in flight, it’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference between hawks and falcons if you know what to look for. Apart from the differences in wing shape, the way they fly and flap their wings also differs. 

Falcons usually fly in a pretty straight line, moving quickly with constant flaps of the wings. This is because the surface area of their wings is pretty small, which is great for flying fast, but not ideal for soaring. In fact, when falcons stop flapping their wings they often begin to fall.

Hawks, with their broad wings and long, prominent primary feathers tend to flap their wings a lot less. They are able to spend a lot of time in the air soaring and looking for their prey without flapping their wings at all. 

Falcon Vs Hawk: Which Is Faster?

hawk vs falcon

While hawks are not slow by any means, falcons take this one easily. Falcons are the fastest birds in the animal kingdom, and one species, the Peregrine Falcon, takes first prize with recorded speeds of over 200 miles per hour. This also makes these birds the fastest-moving animal on the planet. Pretty amazing huh?

The reason for the difference in speed between the two groups is their prey and their hunting technique. Most falcons, especially the faster ones, hunt birds in the air, often using sheer speed to out-fly their prey. Although falcons are some of the most gifted birds in the world when it comes to flying, they tend to spend a whole lot of time perched. 

Hawks on the other hand tend to spend a lot of time circling and soaring the skies. Many hawks use more of an ambush-style approach, often dropping down onto their prey with stealth and surprising them. The various hawks have all sorts of different hunting techniques though, so when it comes to tactics, they are probably the more versatile of the two groups of hunters.

Falcon Vs Hawk: Physical Differences

Hawk vs falcon identification can be pretty tricky for the beginner, but there are a few important differences that should help you put a name to the different species.

Size

difference between hawk and falcon

Hawks and falcons come in quite a few different shapes and sizes because there are many different species of each. In the United States alone, you can find at least 5 species of falcons, and 15 different types of hawks. 

This makes it difficult to say who is bigger, but you would have to say though that on average anyway, hawks are the larger birds. Let’s take a quick look at the figures on American falcons and hawks to see how they compare in size:

Hawks

The smallest American Hawk is the Sharp-shinned Hawk and the largest American hawk is the Ferruginous Hawk

  • Weights: 5 ounces – 4 ½ pounds
  • Lengths: 11-27 inches
  • Wingspan: 2-4 ½ feet

Falcons

The smallest American falcon is the American Kestrel and the largest American Falcon is the Gyrfalcon

  • Weights: 3 ½ ounces – 4 pounds
  • Lengths: 9-22 inches
  • Wingspans: 2-4 feet

Beak

hawk vs falcon identification

If you ever get close enough to notice, another difference between a hawk and a falcon is their beaks. The beaks of falcons differ from those of hawks in that they have a tooth or notch in the upper mandible. This helps falcons kill their prey more easily. 

 

Wings

 hawk vs falcon size

Hawks tend to have broader wings than falcons, which are better for soaring. In most hawks, the ends of the wings have prominent finger-like primary feathers.  Hawks like the Sharp-shinned Hawk have rounded, short wings which help them when flying through tight spaces as they hunt birds through forested areas. 

Falcons tend to have narrower wings that are more sharply pointed, without ‘fingertips’. Like fighter jets, this wing shape is perfect for high-speed flight in the open air. 

Falcon Vs Hawk: Nesting

hawk vs falcon difference

Falcons, unlike hawks, are very lazy when it comes to nest building. If they can, they prefer to use nests built by other birds, rather than building their own. Some species, however, don’t even bother with a nest at all, choosing to lay their eggs on bare rock on a cliff ledge for example, or in a hole in a tree. 

Hawks, on the other hand, are pretty good nest builders. Their nests are usually circular in shape and built from large twigs and then lined with a softer material. Hawks nests can be pretty large in size, often being deeper than they are wide. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a hawk a falcon?

Although hawks and falcons are both birds of prey, they are definitely not the same. There are some big differences in the way they look, fly, hunt, and nest, which can help in telling the difference between the two. 

Who is stronger, hawk or falcon?

It is difficult to say which is stronger. When it comes to flight strength, the falcons are likely to come out on top. Leg strength is probably greater in the hawks, however. 

Can hawks and falcons mate?

It may be physically possible for hawks and falcons to mate, but in practice, this does not happen. They are very different birds with very different behavior and will always choose to mate with their own species in nature. 

Do hawks and falcons fight?

Wild birds usually avoid fighting because the risk of being injured and not being able to hunt is very high. Larger hawks do, however, sometimes steal the prey from smaller falcons. 

The falcons might try to chase the hawk away and get their meal back but they will avoid an actual fight. If either a hawk or falcon interferes with each other’s nest, it may well turn into a falcon vs hawk fight to protect their offspring.

Are hawks and falcons dangerous to humans?

Although both hawks and falcons could hurt humans with their sharp beaks and talons, they almost never attack people. There is no reason to fear these beautiful creatures unless, of course, you have one trapped or are trying to interfere with its eggs or chicks. 

Closing Thoughts

Hawk or falcon, which is your favorite? One thing is for sure they are both very interesting types of birds. Now that you know more about the differences between these two groups you should find identification a lot easier. So get out there and have a great time birdwatching. 

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