Falcons, hawks, and eagles are very similar birds of prey, we must admit. But that doesn’t mean you can just band them all together! They are proud and powerful creatures, and all part of the raptor group of birds. Importantly, they have distinct differences you should be aware of.
In this article, we’re going to help you identify an eagle, falcon, and hawk, and then compare all their key traits. Who would win in a fight? We’ll let you make up your mind at the end…
The eagle is the biggest bird of the three we are comparing. They are strong and sturdy-looking creatures with prominent heads and glaring eyes. The golden eagle and bald eagle are among the most well-known species.
When identifying whether a bird is an eagle or another raptor, size is the biggest clue. An eagle is large enough to prey on larger vertebrates, e.g. rabbits, raccoons, and groundhogs. Some species of eagle have been known to tackle even larger creatures, such as deer.
To identify which species of eagle you are observing, you’ll first need to research which eagle species are found in your location.
Falcons are the smallest birds of the three, although some small hawk species are easily confused with them when you only consdier size. Falcons tend to be more slender, with narrower wings. They can change direction swiftly when flying and are very agile. They have pointed wings that are relatively narrow – looking for this distinctive wing shape and flying agility is the best way to identify if a medium bird of prey is a falcon as opposed to a hawk.
Kestrels are the smallest species of falcons, followed by hobbies, and ending with the largest – peregrine falcons.
Hawks are usually medium-sized birds of prey. However, the size and patterns of different hawks vary greatly from one species to another.
Generally, there are two main types of hawks. True hawks, also known as Accipitrine hawks, are narrow and long in shape. You may be able to spot them by their short, sharp wing movements when in flight. You’re most likely to see these hawk species in forested or woodland areas.
The other type of hawk is actually not a hawk. In America, we call buteonine hawks “hawks”, but in many other countries (including the UK) they’re known as buzzards. They are more commonly found in open areas and have broader bodies with infrequent wing movements.
Eagle vs Falcon vs Hawk Comparison
Now we will take you through the key components and traits of the birds, comparing them side by side.
- Eagle: 60
- Falcon: 40
- Hawk: 200+
To make things confusing, some hawks aren’t commonly called hawks, and there are species that are closely related belonging to all three types of birds of prey.
There are just over 60 different species of eagle, around 40 species of falcon, and over 200 species of hawk. However, some sources say there are over 250 species of hawk, while others suggest the figure is closer to 210.
Hawks, buzzards, kites, harriers, and eagles are all part of the Accipitridae family, which is why they’re easily confused. Furthermore, the word “hawk” can be used colloquially to describe any bird of prey.
Key ID features:
- Eagle: large, strong, structured
- Falcon: small, narrow, pointed
- Hawk: medium, broad
Eagles are the easiest to spot just by their appearance – they will be the largest bird in the sky and their head shape is more pronounced than the falcon and hawk. It’s almost as if they look more muscular!
There are fewer species of falcon and most species tend to be quite small and narrow, with pointed wings that allow better agility.
Hawk species are the most difficult to identify by appearance. Their colors and patterns vary widely from one species to another. The true hawk family tends to have long tails and narrow bodies, while the buzzards have short tails and broader bodies.
- Eagle: screeching
- Falcon: shrieks and whistles
- Hawk: hoarse screams
This video shows a bald eagle screeching to another passing eagle. It’s not the “caw” sound you might be expecting. In TV shows and dramatizations, the same distant caw sound is used whenever a large bird circles overhead, but that’s not accurate at all.
A falcon has less of an elongated screeching sound and more of a high-pitched shriek. It can sometimes sound like the bird is whistling.
Finally, hawks have a hoarse scream-like vocalization. Almost as if they have a sore throat.
Of course, the birds won’t be making noise constantly, so their sound may not always be the best way to identify them.
- Eagle: 45cm – 107cm
- Falcon: 20cm – 65cm
- Hawk: 20cm – 69cm
By height, we mean the length of a bird – also called bill-to-tail length. This is measured from the tip of the tail to the tip of the bill when the bird is flat on its back. However, this measurement is rarely used for comparisons and scientific study because it is so prone to error. You also need to consider that the size of a bird depends upon its age and sex, not just the species.
Nonetheless, we have found the average lengths of the smallest and largest birds of each species to help give you an idea of the range.
Smallest eagle – Australian little eagle – 45cm
Largest eagle – Harpy eagle – 107cm (closely beating the Steller’s sea eagle at 105cm)
Smallest falcon – Pygmy falcon – 20cm
Largest falcon – Gyrfalcon – 65cm
Smallest hawk – Tiny hawk – 20cm
Largest hawk – Ferruginous hawk – 69cm
- Eagle: 815g – 6250g
- Falcon: 85g – 1752g
- Hawk: 75g – 2268g
Like length, weight is also dependent on the species of bird. There’s also a lot of sexual dimorphisms in size with many of these bird species – typically the female is significantly larger than the male. Weight and size are a good way to determine if a bird of prey is male or female if the colorings and patterns aren’t a good enough indicator.
These are the average figures:
Smallest eagle – Australian little eagle – 815g
Largest eagle – Steller’s sea eagle – 6250g
Smallest falcon – Pygmy falcon – 85g
Largest falcon – Gyrfalcon – 1752g
Smallest hawk – Tiny hawk – 75g
Largest hawk – Ferruginous hawk – 2268g
- Eagle: 120cm – 2.2m
- Falcon: 112cm – 160cm
- Hawk: 40cm – 152cm
The wingspan is measured from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other when they are held outstretched. Just like weight and length, it varies from individual to individual as well as species to species. It’s not commonly used alone to determine bird size – the wingspan, weight, and length together are the best indicator when combined.
Smallest eagle – Australian little eagle – 120cm
Largest eagle – Steller’s sea eagle – 2.2m
Smallest falcon – Pygmy falcon – 112cm
Largest falcon – Gyrfalcon – 160cm
Smallest hawk – Tiny hawk – 40cm
Largest hawk – Ferruginous hawk – 152cm
- Eagle: 20 years
- Falcon: 13 years
- Hawk: 20 years
The lifespan of wild birds is difficult to measure, as some species are rarely tagged or are just rare altogether! Nonetheless, we do have a rough idea of lifespan gleaned from keeping these birds in captivity. This is not accurate for wild birds because captive birds can live longer under dedicated human care.
The figures above are averages for each bird family in the wild. But there are exceptions and of course, we expect this data to change as more research is done.
There are rumors that some eagles can live for far longer, but that may not be true. Matthew Igleski, Master of Science and Conservation Biology at the University of Michigan, confirmed that few birds live to 70 and the oldest he knows of was a golden eagle that lived to 46 years in captivity.
- Eagle: Small mammals, fish, snakes
- Falcon: Small rodents and rabbits
- Hawk: Small birds and rodents
All three species are carnivorous, and there tends to be a lot of overlap in the components of their diet.
Most eagles hunt their prey, but some species scavenge too. Medium-small rodents like rabbits, snakes, and fish are the most common prey for eagles, although some can tackle larger animals.
Falcons prefer smaller prey, such as mice and bats, but some larger species can tackle a rabbit. It depends on what rodents are available in the habitat of the specific falcon species.
Hawks eat other small birds (e.g., sparrows) or rodents. Some of the smaller species may also eat insects.
By populous, we are looking at how big the population is. As there are so many different species of eagle, falcon, and hawk, there are no overall figures. It would be like trying to count how many fish there are in the ocean.
Some species are rarer than others, so populations can vary widely.
For example, the Philippines eagle is one of the rarest in the world and classified as critically endangered – there are only 400 to 500 pairs left in the wild. On the other hand, some eagles have successfully recovered their population. The American bald eagle was an endangered species in 1995 but is now classified as least concern. It has been reported that there are so many breeding pairs that annual surveys are no longer necessary.
- Eagle: Everywhere except Antarctica
- Falcon: Everywhere except Antarctica
- Hawk: Everywhere except Antarctica
When it comes to habitat, eagles, falcons, and hawks are on an even playing field. The only place in the world where these birds cannot live is Antarctica.
That being said, some species are happier in some habitats than others. For example the Gray hawk, which lives from southern US states to north Costa Rica, prefers open spaces and the edges of woodlands. Other hawk species, like the Sharp-shinned hawk, like to dwell in deeply wooded areas across northern US and Canada. The Bald eagle likes to live near open bodies of water.
Most birds require access to wide uninhabited areas, whether the terrain is mountain or prairie. Nonetheless, “urban raptors” do exist, and you may be able to spot some in your city!
All animals have a sepcific territory range within which they live and hunt. Some like to be close to others, while other species can only have one bird or so per territory. When it comes to birds, territorial ranges can be extreme.
Average data on eagle, falcon, and hawk territory sizes is hard to come by. If you want to find the territory range of a single bird species close to you, you may have more luck.
We do know that some species are migratory while others are resident. Bald eagles, for example, may be migratory if they nest in a northern location where their water source freezes over during winter. Bald eagles in the south, where water sources are available all year round, are happy to reside there full time.
- Eagle: Up to 150mph
- Falcon: Up to 250mph
- Hawk: Up to 120mph
If you were expecting some very impressive speeds, then you are thinking of diving speeds rather than flying speeds! The speed achieved by moving wings to propel the bird forward is quite low, while the diving speed when they drop to attack prey is incredibly fast.
The Golden eagle can reach 150mph when it dives – one of the fastest eagle diving speeds.
Falcons, however, are even faster. The Peregrine falcon can reach over 200mph when diving, which makes it not just the fastest bird in the world, but the fastest in the entire animal kingdom!
Finally, hawks are not known for their great speeds. The list of the fastest birds in the world is primarily made up of falcons, along with eagles and a few other bird species. Nonetheless, hawks can reach relatively high speeds when they dive.
The fastest hawk is the Red-tailed hawk, which reaches speeds of 120mph when it dives.
- Eagle: cup-shaped and long-lasting
- Falcon: sparse with minimal effort
- Hawk: large and long-lasting
When it comes to nesting, both eagles and hawks build a large and comfortable nest that will last as long as possible. So long as the nest is still in tact, the birds will return to it year after year.
For eagles, a cup-shaped nest is made with sticks and lined with softer material, like moss. The nest is added to every year.
Hawks build their lifetime nests on the highest branch of a mature tree and will defend them passionately from other hawks and humans alike.
Falcons buck the trend, however. They tend to put in the least effort possible, with just a few sparse sticks or even a shallow hole in the ground. Falcons often create their nesting sites on cliff edges and outcrops.
Number of eggs per year:
- Eagle: 1-3
- Falcon: 2-5
- Hawk: 1-5
The eagle lays approximately 1-3 eggs per year and it takes just over a month – 35 days – for the eggs to hatch. Visually, the shells are usually white and some species have brown speckles on them too. Of course, unless you climb to extraordinary heights, you’re unlikely to see any in the wild!
Falcons typically lay 2-5 eggs at a time, which are white with brown splotches – the brown markings will be darker than eagle eggs. After 30 days of incubation, the eggs will hatch.
Hawk pairs both look after the eggs until they are hatched. There are usually 1 to 5 eggs laid per female per year, and they are bluish-white.
All these birds are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day and return to their nest at night.
- Eagle: Mate for life
- Falcon: Mate for life
- Hawk: Dependent on species
Eagles tend to be solitary creatures, so you won’t see them in a big flock. They mate for life and are monogamous, returning to the same nest year after year. You’re most likely to see eagles flying solo, however.
Falcons are monogamous and mate for life. They return to the same territory to mate each year, even though they don’t have permanent nests which they reuse.
Some species of hawk are monogamous, while others aren’t. To become a pair, hawks perform a coordinated, mid-air, circular dance. Hawks also flock together in a “kettle”, which can be thousands of birds depending on the species.
Eagle vs Falcon vs Hawk – Who Wins in a Fight?
We have a very short and definitive answer for you – the eagle! The largest eagle species would absolutely dominate any species of falcon or hawk. The peregrine falcon has the best chance to escaping an attack, as it is fast and agile, but most species would very quickly meet their end should an eagle decide to attack.