Falcons, hawks, and eagles are all similar birds of prey, we must admit. But that doesn’t mean you can or should just band them all together! They are proud and very powerful creatures from the raptor group of birds, and they have distinct differences that you should be aware of.

In this article, we’re going to help you identify an eagle, falcon, and hawk (in case you’re the bird watching type) and then compare all their key traits. Who would win in a fight? We’ll let you make up your mind at the end…

Eagles Identification

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle by @jim.koon.photography

The eagle is the biggest bird of the three we are comparing. They are strong and sturdy-looking creatures with prominent heads and eyes that seem to glare at you. The golden eagle and bald eagle are among the most well-known species.

When identifying if a bird is an eagle or another raptor, size is the biggest clue. An eagle is large enough to prey on sizable vertebrates, e.g., rabbits, raccoons, and groundhogs. Some species of eagle have been known to tackle even larger creatures, such as deer, as well.

To identify which species of eagle you are observing, you’ll need to research what eagle species are found in your location.

Falcons Identification

Common Kestrel
Common Kestrel by @erik_veldkamp

Falcons are the smallest birds of the three, although some small hawk species are easily confused with them when looking only at size. Falcons tend to be slender with narrower wings. They can change direction swiftly when flying and are very agile. As such, they have pointed wings that are quite narrow rather than broad – looking for this distinctive wing shape and flying agility is the best way to identify if a medium bird of prey is a falcon rather than a hawk.

Kestrels are the smallest family of falcons, followed by hobbies, and ending with peregrine falcons which are the largest.

Hawks Identification

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk by @tommy__larsen

Hawks are medium-sized birds, on average. While you can generally say that the eagle will be the largest bird in a single territory, it’s a different story with hawks. The size and patterns of 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.

Species

Rough Legged Hawk
Rough Legged Hawk by @jgjm888
  • Eagle: 60
  • Falcon: 40
  • Hawk: 200+

To make things confusing, some hawks aren’t called hawks and there are species that are closely related between all three birds of prey.

There are just over 60 different species of eagle, around 40 species of falcon, and over 200 species of hawk. Some sources say there are over 250 species of hawk, while others suggest it’s closer to 210.

Hawks, buzzards, kites, harriers, and eagles are all part of the Accipitridae family, which is why they’re easily confused, and identifying them is difficult. Furthermore, the word “hawk” can be used to describe (rather than identify) any bird of prey.

Appearance

Crested Hawk Eagle
Crested Hawk Eagle by @spidy_nature_lover
  • Eagle: large, strong, structured
  • Falcon: small, narrow, pointed
  • Hawk: medium, broad

Eagles are the easiest to spot 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 the majority tend to be quite small and narrow, with pointed wings that allow better agility.

Different 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.

Vocalization

Merlin Hawk
Merlin Hawk by @thewhaleboi
  • 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.

https://youtu.be/PQ2uMauyBow

The 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-type vocalization. It’s as if they have a sore throat.

Of course, the birds won’t be making noise constantly, so their sound is not the best way to identify them.

Height

Harpy Eagle
Harpy Eagle by @photosbylisad
  • 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. According to Wikipedia, 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 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

Weight

Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk by @reenagiolaphoto
  • 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 an indicator.

These are 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

Wingspan

Saker Falcon
Saker Falcon by @sambathsubbaiah
  • 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 bird to bird as well as species to species. It’s not commonly used 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

Lifespan

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon by @lisbethsbird_photos
  • 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 from keeping these birds in captivity, where they can live longer under dedicated human care.

The figures above are averages for the overall bird family in the wild. But there are exceptions and of course, we expect this data to change as the years go by.

There are rumors that some eagles can live for far longer, but that’s not strictly 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.

Diet

Sparrowhawk
Sparrowhawk by @lanza27e
  • Eagle: Small mammals, fish, snakes
  • Falcon: Small rodents and rabbits
  • Hawk: Small birds and rodents

All three species are carnivorous.

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., a sparrow) or rodents. Some of the smaller species may also eat insects.

Also Read: Snake Predators: Animals That Eat Snakes for Lunch

Populous

Red-Tailed Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk by @catyellen_imagery

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 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 the least concern, with so many breeding pairs that annual surveys are no longer necessary.

Habitat

Red Kite
Red Kite by @kcandhiscamera
  • 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 and do not live, is Antarctica.

That being said, some species are happier in some habitats than others. For example, the Gray Hawk that lives from Southern US states to North Costa Rica prefers open spaces and the edges of woodland. Other hawk species, like the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, like to dwell in deeply wooded areas across Northern US and Canada, and the Bald Eagle likes to live near open bodies of water.

Most birds require access to wide uninhabited areas, whether the terrain is a mountain or prairie. Nonetheless, “urban raptors” do exist, and you may be able to spot some in your city!

Territory

Cooper’s Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk by @van.sutherland

All animals have a territory range that they live in and hunt in. Some like to be close to others, while some species can only have one bird or so per territory. When it comes to birds, the territorial ranges can be very extreme – after all, there’s very little stopping them from flying for miles from their nests.

Average data on eagle, falcon, and hawk territory sizes is hard to come by. We just don’t have the data available for all species. If you want to find the territory range of a single bird species, you may have more luck.

But we do know that some species are migratory, and 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 their water source is available all year round, are happy to reside there full time.

Flying Speed

Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara by @freekvolen
  • Eagle: Up to 150mph
  • Falcon: Up to 250mph
  • Hawk: Up to 120mph

If you were expecting some very impressive speeds, then you are looking for 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 gold eagle can reach 150mph when it dives, which is one of the fastest eagle diving speeds.

Falcons, however, are 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 whole animal kingdom!

Finally, hawks are not known for their great speeds. The list of the fastest birds in the world is primarily made of falcons, along with eagles and a few other bird species. Nonetheless, hawks can reach high speeds when they dive.

From our research, the fastest hawk is the red-tailed hawk, which reaches speeds of 120mph when it dives. If you know of a faster hawk, please let us know in the comments so we can update this article.

Nesting

Shikra
Shikra by @markosvellapally_photography
  • 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 can be lived in, the birds will return to the same one year after year.

For eagles, the cup-shaped nest is made with sticks but 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 it 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 spare sticks or even digging a shallow hole in the ground. Falcons often create their nesting sites on cliff edges and outcrops.

Eggs

Black-Shouldered Kite
Black-Shouldered Kite by @prabish.balan
  • 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 eggs 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 their 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 (and eggs) at night. The owl is the more well-known raptor that is nocturnal.

Mating

Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle by @jakesdewet_photography
  • 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 do 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 will return to the same territory to mate each year, even though they don’t have permanent nests that they reuse.

Some species of hawk are monogamous, while others aren’t. To become a pair, the hawks perform a mid-air circular dance together. 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.

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