What Is The Difference Between A Hawk And A Falcon?

If you’re new to the world of birds, there’s every chance that you’ll find it quite the challenge to tell the difference between many of the birds of prey. 

One of the most difficult tasks is to differentiate between hawks and falcons as not only do they look alike, they also have several overlapping characteristics. 

While the two breeds might share a number of similar features, there are still several differences between hawks and falcons to keep in mind when trying to tell the two apart. 

With this in mind, our guide will take an in-depth look at some of the most effective methods of differentiating between a hawk and a falcon. We’ll also look to answer some of the frequently asked questions about the two breeds of bird. 

Taxonomy 

One of the easiest ways to differentiate the two breeds is to consider their classification. Falcon is a name that’s used to refer to numerous species of bird that are all part of the same genus – Falconidae. Some of the species in this family include the laughing falcon, the caracaras, and the forest falcons. 

On the other hand, hawks fall into a number of different genera, but the family they belong to is known as Accipitridae. In this subfamily, there are several species of hawk, including the goshawks, sparrowhawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and much more. 

Size 

In terms of size, hawks are generally bigger than falcons as they possess a wider frame and a longer tail. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that hawks often have shorter wings compared to falcons, which is why a falcon is sometimes also known as a “long wing”. 

While size is regularly used as a means to differentiate between a hawk and a falcon, it can be a somewhat inaccurate method considering that size is often dependent on the species. 

For instance, some of the larger species of falcon such as the peregrine falcon (14.2” to 19.3” long) are bigger than some of the smaller species of hawk. Just take the sharp-shinned hawk for example which measures approximately 9.4” to 13.4” long. 

Furthermore, it’s not the easiest of tasks judging the size of a bird in flight. So, if you’re trying to conclusively differentiate between the two breeds, using size alone isn’t the best approach. 

Wing Shape 

While size may not provide the definitive answer on its own, observing the wing shape of the two breeds can significantly help you to tell a hawk from a falcon. This is because the shape of both breeds’ wings is more consistent and doesn’t vary from species to species. 

Falcons have long, slender, and tapered wings, whereas a hawk’s wings are notably shorter. In terms of observing them while they’re in flight, falcons have thin pointed wings. In contrast, a hawk will typically have wider wings that spread at the ends, providing almost a finger-like shape. 

Speed Of Flight 

Falcons are renowned for their super-quick flight speed, owing mainly to their thin, long wings. They’re faster than the vast majority of birds, both in ordinary flight and when diving. In fact, the peregrine falcon is considered the fastest animal on the planet, with an incredible diving speed of 200 miles per hour. 

Whereas, hawks are generally much slower in flight and tend to glide on a descent. To provide a point of comparison, a red-tailed hawk dives at a speed of around 120 mph, which is considerably slower than the peregrine falcon. 

Flight Pattern  

In addition to their speed of flight, learning and recognizing the flight pattern of falcons and hawks is a great way of distinguishing one from the other. 

For example, falcons flap their wings faster when they’re flying, engaging in only brief periods of gliding. In contrast, hawks flap their wings a little more slowly as they look to glide further and more often through the air. 

Hunting Behavior

If you can find a good view of either a hawk or a falcon, you’ll be able to get a solid idea of which breed they are by taking a look at some of their natural hunting habits. 

Hawks typically have a smooth and simple curve of the beak, whereas falcons possess a notch on their beak which is known as a tooth. 

Falcons use this “tooth” to sever the neck of their prey when hunting. On the other hand, hawks hunt by using the talons of their feet to catch and kill their prey. 

While both breeds are carnivorous, meaning they only eat meat, they tend to focus on different types of prey. For example, falcons typically hunt other birds and sometimes even bats, while hawks target rats, squirrels, rabbits, and small mammals such as mice and voles. 

Other Features 

Listed below are a few of the other features that you can keep in mind when trying to tell the difference between the two breeds.

  • Fully grown falcons tend to be grey and white, whereas hawks are generally white and brown. Just be mindful that the color can vary across species. 
  • Falcons often exhibit striking facial markings. 
  • Hawks have brown-colored cheeks, while a falcon’s cheeks are typically white. 
  • Hawks have longer tails than falcons. 
  • The head shape of a falcon is short and rounded, whereas hawks have a more sleek-pointed shape. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Hawks And Falcons Mate? 

While it’s certainly possible in the physical sense for hawks and falcons to mate, this never actually happens. Both breeds are very different birds with contrasting styles of behavior, so they always choose to mate with their own species. 

Are Hawks And Falcons Dangerous To Humans?

Hawks and falcons have the tools to pose a danger to humans with their sharp beaks and talons, but they very rarely attack people. Therefore, there’s no reason to fear these animals, unless you’re interfering with their eggs or chicks as they’ll understandably fight to protect their own. 

Is A Hawk Or Falcon Stronger?

It’s difficult to provide a definitive answer to this question. In terms of flight strength, it’s likely that falcons would come out on top due to their thin, long wings. However, when it comes to leg strength, hawks would probably have the edge. 

Is It Good Luck To See A Falcon?

In Japanese culture, the symbol of a falcon represents good luck and wealth. The word “hawk” signifies the importance of remaining calm and acting in life without fear. 

Do Hawks And Falcons Fight With Each Other?

Most wild birds tend to stay away from each other in order to avoid injury. Nevertheless, large hawks are sometimes known to steal prey from smaller falcons which can lead to the falcon chasing after the hawk. 

The only other time there’s any kind of dispute between these two breeds is when either a hawk or falcon interferes with the other’s nest. If this happens, there’s every chance of a fight breaking out in order to protect the offspring. 

Conclusion 

As this guide has shown, there are several distinguishing factors you can use when trying to tell the difference between hawks and falcons. 

While they may have similar characteristics in terms of both being carnivores and having their beaks and talons primed for hunting, a closer look at factors such as taxonomy, flight speed, and hunting behavior should be enough to successfully differentiate between the two breeds.