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Falcon vs Hawk: Main Differences & Similarities Explained

The main differences between falcons and hawks are their size, speed preferences, and killing technique. Falcons are smaller, faster, and use their beaks to kill prey, whereas hawks are a bit larger, slower, and kill with their talons.

Hawks and falcons are two of the most common birds of prey. They’re very skilled hunters, and very fast.

They share a lot of similarities, but there are some key differences that set them apart.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the main similarities and differences between hawks and falcons.

Overview of Falcon vs Hawk

Trait Falcons Hawks
Order Falconiformes Accipitriformes
Size 8-30 inches in length 8-26 inches in length
Color Dark gray above with a dark helmet dark brown overall
Wingspan 29-47 inches (74 to 120 cm) 41-55 inches (105 to 141 cm)
Head shape Flatter skull Convex shape
Top speed 240 mph (390 kph) 120 mph (190 kph)
Habitat Diverse habitat: grasslands, desserts, arctic tundras, and more Diverse habitat: deserts, forests, and fields
Diet Small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish Small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians

Differences Between Falcons and Hawks

Here are the key differences between falcons and hawks:

  • Falcons also tend to be smaller than hawks.
  • Falcons have larger wings compared to their body size.
  • Hawks soar while falcons fly to attack.
  • Falcons are Falconiformes whereas hawks are Accipitriformes.
  • Falcons kill with their beaks, whereas hawks kill with their talons.

Falcon vs Hawk: Taxonomy/Classification

Taxonomy True Falcon True Hawk
Kingdom: Animalia Animalia
Phylum: Chordata Chordata
Class: Aves Aves
Order: Falconiformes Accipitriformes
Family: Falconidae Accipitridae
Subfamily: Falconinae Accipitrinae
Genus: Falco

The falcon and the hawk are both birds of prey or raptors. They can be differentiated primarily by their taxonomy/classification. Falcons are from order Falconiformes while hawks are from order Accipitriformes.[1]

True hawks are part of the genus “Falco” whereas true hawks are part of the subfamily “Accipitrinae”.

Hawks are more closely related to other types of raptors like vultures and eagles than falcons.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Falcon vs Hawk: Size

Falcons are generally smaller than hawks, but not by a lot. They’re both smaller birds of prey, and hence both target small prey when hunting.

Hawks are 8-30 inches in length, falcons are 8-26 inches in length. The falcon’s hooked beak usually measures 1.5-4 cm while the hawks are 2.2-3.1 cm long. 

These measurements vary slightly according to the gender and geographic location of the bird.

peregrine falcon flying on the beach

Falcon vs Hawk: Wings

Falcons have longer wings relative to their body size than hawks. They also have more aerodynamic wings. This results in faster speeds.

Hawks and falcons are both predatory birds, and as such they share several physical characteristics. However, there are some primary differences between the two types of birds. 

The primary difference is in the wings: Falcons have long, pointy wings (active soaring wings), while hawks have wider, more rounded, shorter wings (passive soaring wings).[2]

Hence, falcons are better suited for high-speed dives over short distances, whereas hawks are better suited for soaring for a long time.

Related: How Fast Can a Hawk Fly?

peregrine falcon diving

Falcon vs Hawk: Head Shape

Falcons and hawks can be differentiated primarily by their head shapes. 

Hawks’ skulls have a convex shape, which extends to either side of the bird’s face.

In contrast, a falcon has a flatter skull with pointed corners on each side of its face that creates a V-shape in the bird’s profile.

Brown Hawk eyes close up

Falcon vs Hawk: Flight Style

You can tell the difference between hawks and falcons in flight by looking at their flying style. Hawks soar in the air, typically when scouting for prey or competitors. Falcons don’t soar but fly to dive down for prey.

Falcons can also soar, but not as long.

This can be attributed to the shape of the head, neck, and wings that each bird possesses: The falcons’ heads and necks are narrower than that of the hawks. This affects the way both birds fly by changing where they position their wings in relation to the body.

Falcons use a type of flight called dynamic soaring, which involves flying through air pockets that provide thrust. They gain speed with each pocket until they are able to adjust themselves into another air pocket, gaining them more speed and momentum.

Hawks, on the other hand, use a type of flight called passive soaring. In this style of flying, a hawk maintains a steady altitude and speed by gliding with its wings outstretched, using small flaps to adjust itself into the most aerodynamic position possible.

a peregrine falcon

Falcon vs Hawk: Killing Method

Hawks and falcons kill their prey differently. Hawks primarily use their talons, while falcons use their beaks to kill. Both animals use the element of surprise to catch unsuspecting prey.

Falcons have curved, narrow beaks that allow them to puncture the skulls of birds. 

Hawks also have powerful beaks, but their talons and feet are even stronger. They use their feet to choke their prey, and their talons to tear them apart.

Related: How Do Hawks Kill Their Prey?

hawk carrying prey

Falcon vs Hawk: Nesting Behavior

Falcons and hawks build nests in very different locations. Hawks tend to build their nests high up in tall trees. On the other hand, falcons build nests much closer to the ground, such as in tree hollows or bird boxes.

Similarities Between Falcons and Hawks

There are almost 60 different species of hawks and falcons in the world today. While many of them have developed individual traits that set them apart, they share many similarities.

Both Are Birds of Prey

Both falcons and hawks are birds of prey – animals that hunt for food to survive. With more than 60 species in the family Falconidae (falcons) and Accipitridae (hawks), they are the largest of all bird families.

Birds of prey hunt for food, either during the day or during the night. Both falcons and hawks hunt in the daylight.[3]

Related: What Do Falcons Eat?

hawk scavenging

Hooked Bills & Sharp Talons

Falcons and hawks have very similar bills and talons that help them hunt their prey. Both animals have hooked bills that allow them to catch their prey. The hooked bill is also useful when tearing apart or eating their prey.

The sharp talons that falcons and hawks both possess are additional weapons that both possess. These birds of prey use their sharp, curved talons to catch and hold onto their prey before they eat it.

Falcons and hawks use their talons and beaks slightly differently, as falcons mostly use their beaks, while hawks mostly use their talons.

peregrine falcon

Keen Eyesight

In order to locate their prey, both kinds of birds have incredible vision. They can see long distances with a wide peripheral view.

Hawks tend to have slightly better eyesight than hawks. They can spot medium-sized prey from up to a mile away while soaring in the sky.

They also use their eyesight to stay on target when diving. In other words, they can see well while flying fast, much better than humans.

Related: How Good Is a Hawk’s Vision? 

common buzzard hawk screeching

Are Falcons and Hawks the Same?

Falcons and hawks are both birds of prey, but they’re not the same animal. Falcons are in the genus Falco, while hawks are in the genus Accipiter.

Who Is More Powerful Falcon or Hawk?

Hawks are typically more powerful, as a result of their bigger size, but falcons are faster.

Falcons typically weigh less than hawks. As a result, hawks are generally stronger, and hence more powerful in terms of raw power.

When it comes to speed, falcons are much faster. 

Is a Hawk More Dangerous Than a Falcon?

Falcons and hawks can be equally dangerous. Falcons are widely considered to be the most effective hunters in the world, but some people consider hawks to have the same capabilities. Both of these birds are very skilled hunters, so it may be difficult to determine which is more dangerous.

Can a Falcon Defeat a Hawk?

Yes, a falcon can defeat a hawk. Just because they’re slightly smaller, doesn’t mean they can’t put up a fight. It also depends on the species.

When we think of a hawk, we automatically associate it with a sharp-taloned predator. However, falcons are also very skilled hunters, with sharp talons and beaks.

So, what determines if a falcon can defeat a hawk?  The answer is very simple: it depends on the individuals. Falcons are generally smaller than hawks, but they have been known to attack prey much larger than themselves.

Conclusion

In conclusion, falcons, and hawks are different birds of prey. Falcons are typically smaller, but also faster. Hawks have more raw power, as they’re bigger in size.

The two animals hunt slightly differently, where hawks primarily use their talons to kill, and falcons primarily use their beaks.

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About Kaitlin Mullins

Birds are plenty, and they can be hard to keep track of. Thankfully, Katilin Mullins has taken charge of these. With plenty of free time spent bird watching, she’s a true expert on these intriguing animals.