Birds of prey are fascinating creatures not only to birdwatchers but to anyone fortunate enough to lay eyes on them.
The air of elegance around these two birds is undeniable. And if you ever catch a glimpse of them through the lens of a binocular, you will surely appreciate their beauty.
However, if you are a casual birdwatcher, there is a good chance that you will not be able to differentiate between a Hawk and a Falcon. Since they share a lot of similarities, it takes a seasoned pair of eyes and some general idea before you can notice the difference.
Are you planning to get into the hobby and spot these birds yourself? Well, you came to the right place. In this article, we will make a head-to-head comparison between Falcon vs. Hawk to help you understand the key differences between the two raptors.
Brief Overview of a Hawk
The name hawk is given to two different categories of raptors. First, you have the forest hawks, which originate from the Accipiters family, and second, the open country hawks come from the Buteos family. Despite the two classes, they share some common traits that define them.
For instance, all hawks have broad wings. Their more enormous wingspan allows them to soar high up in the sky and glide large distances. In terms of body size, they are moderately large. Their talons are pretty long and sharp. In addition, they have a significantly enhanced vision that lets them spot prey from 100 feet away.
Unlike most animals, hawks are not color blind. They can differentiate between different colors. They are also daytime hunters and sleep during the night.
Nowadays, you can find over 270 different species of Hawk in various parts of the world. Although you can find the most species of Hawk in northern and central America, a select few species can also be found in the West Indies and Jamaica.
The Most Notable of the Species Are:
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Northern Harrier
- Bat Hawk
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Sparrow Hawk
Brief Overview of a Falcon
Compared to a hawk, a falcon is much smaller in size. However, falcons are not to be trifled with when it comes to speed. In fact, it holds the record for the fastest flyer among all of the avian creatures, with a maximum speed of around 242 miles per hour.
The body shape of a falcon is also quite different compared to a hawk. Compared to the broad wingspan of a hawk, the wings of a falcon are pretty narrow. However, their wings are tapered and have pointed tips.
That, combined with the large tail of a falcon, allows it to navigate and maneuver freely at high speeds.
Due to their high flight speeds, they can catch up to their prey quite easily. Similar to hawks, falcons also have excellent vision.
They are deadly predators and can kill their targets almost instantly and carry them off with their beaks. As you may already have guessed, their beaks are pretty sharp and pointed.
Falcons have a bit wider habitat compared to hawks too. You can find some falcon species in different regions even though their species are not as diverse as that of a hawk. Generally, falcons can be categorized into 52 different species.
The most notable out of them are:
- American Kestrel
- Peregrine Falcon
Key Differences between a Falcon and a Hawk
Now that we have given you a basic idea of the two different birds, it is time to head a bit deeper. Keep in mind, though; there are many behavioral similarities between a Falcon and a Hawk, both predatory birds. Apart from physical differences, the differences in other sectors are pretty subtle.
That being said, here is a list of some key differences between the two birds of prey.
- Wingspan and Physical Attributes
The easiest way to notice the difference between a hawk and a falcon is to capture them with their wings outstretched. Their wingspans are entirely different, and it easily helps you understand the primary difference between the physique of the two birds of prey.
The wings of a hawk look more like fingers, while the outstretched wings of a falcon are pretty pointy. Because of the design, the flight style of the two birds also varies quite drastically. A hawk, for instance, typically glides across the sky, whereas falcons fly fast and maneuver mid-flight tightly.
- Habitat and Range
Falcons have around 52 different species, whereas a total of 270 species of hawks can be found around the world. Both falcons and hawks have adapted to human activities and are quite comfortable living in suburban settings. But there are still slight differences between where you can find falcons and hawks.
When it comes to falcons, you can find five different species in the eastern part of the USA. You can sometimes also spot an extra species that makes its way to the eastern part by accident. In the western part of the country, you can find five other species of the same bird.
You can find Falcons flying in a wide range of habitats including mountains, and forests. However, most of the time, you can spot them near grasslands.
Wetlands and sea coasts also see their fair share of falcon activities. As you can see, they can adapt well to almost any environment.
However, falcons typically do not roam around suburban settings. That is where hawks truly stand out. Though hawks can be found in deep forests and open country regions, they can also be spotted regularly near suburban environments.
- Hunting Habits and Flight
The hunting habits of a falcon and a hawk are pretty different. One of the main features you can spot right away isto catch one of these birds in the middle of their hunting dive. However, catching a glimpse of these birds at this time is quite tricky.
Simply put, falcons hunt with their beaks while hawks use their talons or claws. You can notice a notch on the beaks of a falcon. But the beak of a hawk is entirely smooth.
Both of these birds can swoop in for the kill extremely fast, but a falcon is slightly speedier compared to a hawk.
When it comes to flight speed and navigation, falcons have a greater edge. Because of their narrow and pointed wings, they can maneuver through shrubbery and wilderness and soar through the open air with maximum velocity. Their talons are used for capturing their prey, but they usually kill them with their beak by severing the backbone.
On the other hand, falcons glide smoothly across the sky, stalking their prey. They not only ground target but also sometimes feast on smaller birds. Typically, they dive onto the prey and kill it using their beak or stun it using their feet before killing it.
- Prey Species
The two birds also share some similarities when it comes to their choice of food. Their preys are often interchangeable. Whatever differences there are in terms of prey species is mostly dependent on the type of habitat where the bird lives.
Both hawks and falcons can feast on mid-air birds and ground insects, and larger animals. Since both of these birds are carnivores, their diets are pretty similar. Typically, they prey upon birds, reptiles, small animals like rabbits and squirrels, and rodents.
- Color Patterns
Before you look too much into the color patterns, you need to understand that the color of each bird can vary quite drastically depending on the species you are looking at.
For instance, the Red-Tailed Hawk comes with a white chest and sometimes gets brown spots on their wings, backs, and heads despite the name. As these species of hawks get older, they develop a red tail.
Typically, most falcons favor a grey complexion, while most hawk families come with brown as their primary color.
Again, this can vary depending on which species you are scouting. But if you have nothing else to go on, this can give you a clue which bird you are looking at.
- Interaction with Human
The idea of using birds of prey for hunting is not exactly new—the first instances of using falcons or hawks for hunting animal dates back to 1300 BC.
But which of the two birds are more adept at it? Both can serve you well, but it also depends on the bird species to some degree.
Typically, many falcon species can be domesticated and used for hunting perfectly if the trainer knows what theyare doing. Since the bird is quite intelligent, it catches on to training quite fast.
However, it mostly goes after songbirds, which can be a nuisance if you use it for hunting for food.
Hawks also can work quite well. But not every species of hawks is up to the task. But the good news here is that you can also tame and domesticate smaller hawks.
However, using a larger hawk for hunting or keeping it as a pet is usually not possible. It can be perilous, especially if you do not know what you are doing.
Hawk vs. Falcon: How to Identify Easily
Although hawks and falcons are two entirely different birds of prey, it can be hard to distinguish between them at first glance. If you are getting into the hobby of birdwatching, then the following three tips will help you identify it right away.
- The Head
There is a subtle difference between the shape of the head of the two birds that can help you identify it.
However, it is most useful when you look at the head from an indirect angle. Looking at it from a straight angle might not help you identify the difference that easily.
Typically, there is a slight notch above the beak in the head of a falcon. It allows them to catch their prey easily with their beak. However, hawks do not have this notch since they hunt using their talons.
- Wing Shape
Looking at the wing’s shape and size is also a great way to identify whether it is a hawk or a falcon.
Falcons usually come with narrow wings with pointed ends. In comparison, the wings of a hawk are wider. The ends of a hawk’s wings are also rounder compared to that of a falcon.
Furthermore, if you look at larger hawks, their wings resemble fingers with parted feathers at the ends. This enables them to maneuver with extreme precision and turn in any direction quickly while flying.
- Flight Pattern
What if you catch one of these birds through your binoculars mid-flight? Well, analyzing its flight path is another excellent way to identify what you are looking at.
However, this means that you want to follow the movement of the bird closely, at least for a couple of seconds.
With falcons, you will see the bird flapping its wings quite frequently and rapidly. On the other hand, hawks typically glide over longer distances and flap their wings only after covering certain distances. Typically, falcons are also much faster than hawks.
At first glance, it might seem that the difference between a hawk and a falcon is exceptionally subtle.
However, veteran birdwatchers will be able to tell what they are looking at almost immediately without any effort. The reason behind it is that they know what they arelooking for.
Our guide on Falcon vs. Hawk should help you understand the key differences between the two birds. After some practice, you will be able to figure out which bird you are looking at without too much trouble. This would make your next birdwatching trip even more exciting and memorable.