Falcons VS Hawks: What’s the Difference Between a Hawk and a Falcon?

Falcons VS Hawks: What’s the difference?

The ultimate battle between two fierce birds of prey is here! The falcon and the hawk, both majestic creatures of the sky, now face off in a heated competition.

What’s the difference? Let’s find out...

Is it a Falcon or a Hawk?

Is it a Falcon or a Hawk

The first step to understanding the difference between a falcon and a hawk is recognizing their physical characteristics.

Falcons VS Hawks: 16 Main Differences

1. Physical Differences

Check out the table below to compare the physical differences in Falcons VS Hawks:

SizeGenerally smaller, with a wingspan of 20-45 inchesGenerally larger, with a wingspan of 20-60 inches
WingshapeLong, pointed wings for fast and agile flightBroad, rounded wings for soaring and gliding
BeakNotched or toothed beak for catching prey mid-airSharp, curved beak for tearing prey apart
TalonsStrong and sharp, with a sharp rear talon for killing preyStrong and sharp, with a less pronounced rear talon
Feather ColorOften have bold, contrasting color patternsTypically have more muted coloration
FlightKnown for their swift, darting flight and aerial acrobaticsOften soar and glide in search of prey
DietPrimarily carnivorous, feeding on other birds, small mammals, and insectsPrimarily carnivorous, feeding on small mammals, birds, and reptiles
ExamplesPeregrine Falcon, American KestrelRed-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk

2. Diet Differences

Diet Differences

Falcons and hawks are both raptors, or birds of prey.

Though they share some similarities, such as sharp beaks and talons, they also have some significant dietary differences.

Falcons typically hunt smaller prey, such as reptiles, small mammals, and birds. In contrast, hawks typically hunt larger prey, such as rabbits and squirrels.

Diet CharacteristicFalconsHawks
Prey SizeFalcons generally prey on smaller animals, such as birds, insects, and small mammalsHawks are known to prey on a wider range of animals, including birds, small mammals, reptiles, and even insects
Hunting MethodFalcons are known for their high-speed aerial pursuits, hunting by diving down on their prey from above and capturing them mid-air with their sharp talons. They may also pursue prey on the ground.Hawks typically hunt by perching or soaring from above, using their sharp eyesight to locate prey below. Once they spot a potential meal, they will swoop down and grab it with their talons. Some hawk species may also chase their prey in the air.
Prey PreferenceFalcons are specialized hunters that primarily prey on other birds, including small songbirds and game birds such as quail and pheasants. Some falcon species also hunt bats and insects.Hawks have a wider range of prey preferences, with different species targeting different types of animals. For example, the Red-tailed Hawk is known for hunting rodents, while the Cooper’s Hawk primarily preys on birds.
Feeding BehaviorFalcons often consume their prey in mid-air or on the ground, tearing it apart with their sharp beaks and talons. They may also store their kills in caches for later consumption.Hawks typically consume their prey on the ground, using their beaks and talons to tear it apart. Some hawk species, such as the Red-tailed Hawk, are known to feed on carrion (dead animals) as well as live prey.

In addition to size differences, the two types of raptors also differ in their hunting methods.

Falcons tend to hunt by flying quickly and swooping down on their prey, while hawks tend to perch in trees and wait for their prey to come within range.

As a result of these different hunting strategies, falcons and hawks consume different types of prey and play different roles in the ecosystem.

Related Articles: Hawks Vs Falcons: What Is The Difference

3. Speed Differences

Speed Differences

Falcons are some of the fastest animals on Earth, with many species capable of reaching speeds in excess of 200 mph.

Hawks, on the other hand, are generally much slower, with top speeds around 50-60 mph.

The main reason for this difference is that falcons have long, pointed wings that are designed for speed, while hawks have shorter, broader wings that are better suited for maneuverability.

Speed CharacteristicFalconsHawks
Maximum SpeedFalcons are known for their incredibly fast flight speeds, with some species capable of reaching speeds of up to 240 mph (386 km/h) during dives (such as the Peregrine Falcon).Hawks are generally slower in flight than falcons, with top speeds averaging around 40-60 mph (64-96 km/h). However, some hawk species, such as the Northern Goshawk, can reach speeds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h) during dives.
Flight StyleFalcons are known for their fast, direct flight, with rapid wing beats and an ability to maneuver quickly in the air. They use their speed and agility to catch their prey in mid-air.Hawks typically have a more leisurely flight style, using their broad wings to soar and glide in search of prey. They may use short bursts of speed to chase down their prey once they spot it.
Hunting MethodFalcons rely on their speed and maneuverability to catch their prey, often diving down on them from great heights to deliver a swift blow with their sharp talons.Hawks use their keen eyesight to locate their prey, then swoop down on it from above, using their talons to grab and kill it. Some hawk species also hunt by chasing their prey in the air.
Specialized AdaptationsFalcons have specialized adaptations that allow them to fly at incredibly high speeds, including a streamlined body shape, sharp talons for gripping prey, and a special respiratory system that allows them to maintain high levels of oxygen intake during flight.Hawks have adaptations that allow them to soar and glide for long periods of time, including broad wings for efficient lift and a light body weight that minimizes energy expenditure. Some hawk species also have sharp, curved beaks for tearing apart their prey.

Falcons also typically weigh less than hawks, which helps them to achieve higher speeds.

In addition, falcons typically hunt during the day, when there is more thermal updraft to help them stay aloft.

Hawks, on the other hand, often hunt at night or twilight, when they can take advantage of rising temperature gradients to glide long distances without flapping their wings.

As a result of these differences in anatomy and hunting strategy, falcons are able to reach much higher speeds than hawks.

4. Vocalization Differences

Vocalization Differences

To the untrained ear, falcons and hawks may seem interchangeable.

After all, they’re both raptors with sharp claws and powerful wings. However, these two birds of prey actually have some significant differences, including their vocalizations.

Falcons tend to have higher-pitched voices, while hawks typically have deeper, harsher cries.

Additionally, falcons typically call out in short bursts, while hawks often give a series of longer cries.

These vocalization differences can help you to tell these two types of birds apart.

So the next time you’re out birdwatching, listen carefully for those telltale signs of a falcon or hawk.

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5. Habitats Differences

Habitats Differences

Falcons and hawks are both Birds of Prey, meaning they hunt and eat other animals.

Both groups of birds are known for their keen eyesight and sharp claws, which they use to capture prey.

However, there are several key differences between these two types of birds:

Habitat CharacteristicFalconsHawks
HabitatOpen grasslands, deserts, mountains, and urban environmentsForests, grasslands, wetlands, and urban areas
MigrationMany species are migratorySome species are migratory, others non-migratory
Social BehaviorGenerally solitary, some pair or family groupsMore social, may form flocks or pair bonds
Nesting BehaviorNests in cliffs, trees, and man-made structuresNests primarily in trees or on rock ledges

Falcons tend to live in open areas, such as fields or deserts, while hawks are more likely to be found in forests or near bodies of water.

Falcons also have long, pointed wings that allow them to dive at high speeds, while hawks typically have shorter, rounded wings that give them more maneuverability in trees.

Additionally, Falcons typically eat the smaller prey, such as rodents or birds, while hawks can take down larger animals like rabbits or snakes.

While both falcons and hawks are impressive predators, their different habitats and hunting styles mean that they play slightly different roles in the ecosystem.

6. Appearance Differences

Appearance Differences

Falcons and hawks are both birds of prey, but they have some distinct differences in their appearance.

Falcons tend to be smaller and more slender than hawks, with long, pointed wings.

Hawks, on the other hand, are generally larger birds with broader wings.

Appearance CharacteristicFalconsHawks
SizeGenerally smaller with a wingspan of 20-45 inchesGenerally larger with a wingspan of 20-60 inches
WingshapeLong, pointed wings for fast flightBroad, rounded wings for soaring and gliding
BeakNotched or toothed beak for catching prey mid-airSharp, curved beak for tearing prey apart
TalonsStrong and sharp with a sharp rear talon for killing preyStrong and sharp, with a less pronounced rear talon
Feather ColorOften have bold, contrasting color patternsTypically have more muted coloration

Falcons also have sharper talons than hawks, which helps them to kill their prey more quickly.

In addition, falcons typically have darker plumage than hawks, which helps them to blend in with their surroundings when hunting.

These appearance differences help to distinguish these two types of birds of prey.

8. Nesting Differences

Preference Differences

Some birdwatchers prefer to watch the more agile falcons, while others are content with watching hawks.

This is likely due to the differences in their hunting style; falcons mostly hunt by diving quickly and powerfully at prey, while hawks tend to soar around until they spot their lunch.

Another factor could be the size difference between these two birds of prey; falcons are typically smaller than hawks, so they may be easier to find.

In terms of appearance, there are also differences between these two raptors.

Falcons tend to have long pointed wings and narrow tails, while hawks usually have broad wings and wider tails.

Falcons’ coloring ranges from brownish to blue-gray, while hawks can be brown, gray, black, and white.

Nesting habits of falcon

Nesting habits of falcon

The nesting habits of falcons are highly varied, with some species exhibiting monogamous relationships while others engage in polygamy.

Falcons build nests out of sticks and twigs in isolated locations such as cliffs or rock ledges.

They may also use an abandoned nest from a larger bird such as a hawk or an eagle.

Nesting CharacteristicFalconsHawks
Nest LocationCliffs, trees, and man-made structures such as buildings and bridgesPrimarily in trees or on rock ledges
Nest MaterialSticks, twigs, grasses, and other vegetationSticks and twigs, sometimes lined with softer materials such as moss or feathers
Nesting HabitsGenerally build new nests each breeding seasonOften reuse the same nest for multiple breeding seasons
Nesting DensityGenerally have lower nesting densities than hawksMay have higher nesting densities in some areas

The female falcon lays two to five eggs and both parents provide care during the incubation period.

The young hatch after 28-35 days and are ready to leave the nest within two weeks of hatching.

Nesting habits of hawk

Nesting habits of hawk

Hawks are highly territorial birds, and they prefer to nest in remote areas of land with minimal human activity.

Hawks usually build nests that are large enough for their eggs and young, although some species may create more elaborate structures than others.

In general, hawk nests tend to be built on tree branches or tall posts.

They typically consist of twigs, grasses, and other plant materials.

They are usually placed at the highest point of a tree or post, to take advantage of better visibility and protection from predators.

9. Hunting Habits: A Tale of Two Predators

When it comes to falcon vs hawk hunting habits, there are some distinct differences.


Falcons are known for their incredible speed and agility.

They often hunt by diving at their prey from high altitudes, reaching speeds of up to 240 miles per hour! This hunting method, known as “stooping,” allows them to catch fast-moving birds like pigeons and ducks in mid-air.


On the other hand, hawks primarily rely on their stealth and powerful talons to catch their prey. They prefer to perch in trees, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

While hawks are not as fast as falcons, they are incredibly skilled at maneuvering through dense forests to ambush their prey, which often consists of small mammals like mice and rabbits.

9. Size Matters: Comparing Falcon and Hawk Dimensions

In the debate of falcon vs hawk size, hawks generally come out on top.


While both birds have a wide range of sizes depending on the species, hawks are typically larger, with broader bodies and wings.

The largest hawk species, the Ferruginous Hawk, can have a wingspan of up to 56 inches!


Falcons, in contrast, are usually smaller and more slender.

The largest falcon species, the Gyrfalcon, has a wingspan ranging from 48 to 63 inches, but most falcons have a wingspan between 24 and 40 inches.

Their smaller size and streamlined bodies allow them to be more agile in the air, which is essential for their high-speed hunting style.

10. A Kaleidoscope of Colors: Falcons and Hawks in the Wild

When discussing falcon vs hawk colors, both birds have a wide variety of patterns and shades.

However, there are some general differences that can help you tell them apart.


Falcons tend to have a more uniform coloration, with shades of gray, brown, or black on their upper body and lighter colors on their underside.

Some falcon species, like the Peregrine Falcon, have distinctive black “sideburns” on their face.


Hawks, on the other hand, often have more varied patterns and colors. They can be found in shades of brown, red, or gray, with markings like stripes, spots, or bands on their bodies.

One well-known example is the Red-tailed Hawk, which has a reddish-brown tail and a mottled pattern on its body.

11. Wings: Distinguishing Falcon and Hawk Wing Shapes

The final aspect to consider in the falcon vs hawk comparison is their wings.

Both birds have specialized wing shapes adapted to their unique hunting styles, making it an essential feature to differentiate between the two.


Falcons have long, pointed wings that are ideal for high-speed flight and rapid changes in direction. These wings allow them to cut through the air with minimal resistance, giving them their renowned agility and speed.

The wingtips of a falcon are often visibly curved or swept back, adding to their streamlined appearance.


Hawks, in contrast, have broader, rounded wings. These wings enable them to generate more lift, allowing them to soar effortlessly for extended periods.

This is especially useful for their sit-and-wait hunting strategy, as they can conserve energy while scanning the ground for prey.

The rounded wingtips of a hawk also help with maneuverability in tight spaces, such as navigating through trees in a forest.

12. Head Shape: Spotting the Difference Between Falcons and Hawks

Another way to distinguish between falcon vs hawk is by examining their head shape.


Falcons have a sleek, streamlined head with large, dark eyes. Their vision is exceptional, which is crucial for spotting prey from great distances and at high speeds.


Hawks, on the other hand, have a more robust head shape, often appearing more rounded or even blocky.

Their eyes are also slightly smaller than those of falcons, and they may have a more prominent brow ridge.

This gives them a fierce, intense appearance that complements their hunting strategy.

13. Taxonomy: The Scientific Classification of Falcons and Hawks

When it comes to taxonomy, falcons and hawks belong to different families within the order Accipitriformes.


Falcons are part of the family Falconidae, which includes other birds of prey like kestrels and caracaras.


Hawks belong to the family Accipitridae, which also includes eagles, kites, and harriers.

These taxonomic distinctions reflect the differences in their physical characteristics, behavior, and evolutionary history.

14. Flying Style: How Falcons and Hawks Take to the Skies

In the falcon vs hawk debate, their flying styles are another significant point of distinction.


Falcons are built for speed and agility, making them some of the fastest birds in the world.

They rely on rapid, powerful wingbeats to propel themselves through the air, often engaging in impressive aerial acrobatics while hunting.


Hawks have a more relaxed flying style, using their broad wings to take advantage of thermals and updrafts to soar high in the sky.

They can spend hours gliding effortlessly, conserving energy while they search for prey.

When it’s time to strike, they use their powerful wings to swoop down and seize their target with precision.

15. Range: Where Falcons and Hawks Call Home

Both falcons and hawks have a wide range, with species found on every continent except Antarctica.

However, their preferred habitats can vary depending on the species.


Falcons are often found in open habitats, such as grasslands, deserts, and coastal areas, where their speed and agility can be used to their advantage.


Hawks, on the other hand, are more commonly found in wooded areas or forests, where their stealth and maneuverability are essential for hunting prey.

Some hawk species can also be found in grasslands, marshes, and even urban environments.

The diverse range of falcons and hawks speaks to their adaptability and ability to thrive in various ecosystems.

16. Beaks: The Business End of Falcons and Hawks

The beaks of falcons and hawks are specialized tools that reflect their hunting strategies.


Falcons have a distinctively curved, sharp beak, with a notch called a “tomial tooth” on the upper mandible.

This specialized feature allows them to sever the spinal cord of their prey quickly and efficiently.


Hawks, in contrast, have a more robust, hooked beak, perfect for tearing through the flesh of their prey.

Their beaks are strong and powerful, enabling them to dismantle their catch with ease.

The differences in beak shape and function are yet another way to distinguish between falcon vs hawk in the world of birds of prey.

Final thoughts on Falcons VS Hawks

When it comes to falcons vs hawks, there is no clear winner. It all depends on the situation and what type of bird you’re looking for.

Falcons are more adept at hunting because they have evolved to fly faster and more agilely than hawks.

They also have stronger talons which allow them to capture their prey more easily.

However, hawks are better at survival because they are more adaptable to a variety of environments and can withstand harsher conditions than falcons.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference when deciding between a falcon or a hawk.

Both birds have their strengths and weaknesses, but both can also make excellent pets if taken care of properly.

Whichever bird you choose, make sure to research its care requirements and be prepared to provide them with everything they need to live a long and healthy life.


Can a Falcon defeat a hawk?

The answer to this question depends on the size and species of both birds.

Generally speaking, a larger bird like a Gyrfalcon has more power than a smaller hawk such as a Red-tailed Hawk.

In most cases, the Falcon will have an advantage because of its speed and agility in flight, allowing it to outmaneuver the hawk.

However, a larger hawk such as a Red-shouldered Hawk could have an advantage in strength over the Falcon.

How much bigger is a hawk than a falcon?

The size of hawks and falcons can vary widely, with some species being much larger than others.

Generally speaking, the average hawk is slightly bigger than the average falcon.

For example, a Red-tailed Hawk typically measures around 20 to 26 inches while a Peregrine Falcon usually reaches 17 to 22 inches in length.

The wingspan of a hawk is generally greater than that of a falcon too.

On average, the wingspan of a Red-tailed Hawk typically measures anywhere from 39 to 44 inches, while the Peregrine Falcon’s wingspan usually ranges between 35 to 42 inches.

Is a falcon an eagle?

Falcon and eagles are both part of the same family of birds, Accipitridae, but they’re different types.

Eagles belong to a subgroup called Aquila while falcons belong to a subgroup called Falconinae.

This means that falcons are not actually eagles, though they may look similar in some ways.

Who is faster eagle or falcon?

This is a question that has been debated among birdwatchers, falconers, and other interested people for generations.

When it comes to speed, the answer is clear – falcons have the edge over hawks.

Falcons can reach tremendous speeds in pursuit of their prey, capable of flying at up to 200 mph! Hawks are no slouches either, with some species reaching speeds of up to 60 mph.

Is Hawk and Eagle same?

No, they are not the same. Eagles and Hawks are both birds of prey but they have many differences in their appearance and behavior.

Eagles are much larger than hawks and belong to the family Accipitridae whereas hawks belong to Falconidae family.

Eagles usually have a wingspan twice as large compared to a hawk and they have large, strong beaks and sharp talons. Eagles also tend to soar high in the sky whereas hawks are usually spotted flying at lower altitudes.

Are hawks friendly to humans?

Hawks can be very territorial and will defend their nests from anything they see as a threat, including humans. If you disturb a hawk’s nest or get too close to its young, it may lash out at you in an attempt to protect them.

However, some species of hawks are more tolerant of human activity than others.

The Harris’s Hawk, for example, has been used in falconry throughout history due to its relatively calm demeanor. As long as you respect their space and don’t disturb them, hawks can be appreciated from a distance without causing any harm.

Julian Goldie - Owner of ChiperBirds.com

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.