Falcon vs Hawk

If you’ve just started bird watching, you may find it difficult to find the difference between different types of birds like hawks and Flacons. Both of these birds look very similar which is why it can be hard to distinguish between the two, especially for new bird watchers. If you’ve just started birdwatching, being able to distinguish the difference between birds is a great skill to have.

Trying to distinguish between these two birds can be interesting because birds of prey are some of the most interesting birds around. Birds of prey or raptors are a species of bird that primarily hunt and feed on vertebrates that are relatively larger than the hunter which is the bird. These birds are distinguished by a hooked bill and sharp talons and these birds include hawks, eagles, falcons, buzzards, harriers, kites, and Old World Vultures.

Hawks are equipped with smoother beaks with a slight curve since they mainly use their talons to kill their prey, whilst Falcons have a sharp angular curve on their beaks which allow them to break their vertebrates neck. Falcons are much faster in which the Peregrine falcon reaching a top speed of 390 km/h which allows them to target their prey at speed while hawks tend to be slower when flying and they mainly use their wings for decent.

There are many factors that distinguish a falcon and a hawk and since they belong to different genera, it can be easy to tell. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to distinguish the difference between these two birds.


The main characterization of a falcon is their powerful beaks they use to kill their prey (which have been well adapted to do this efficiently), and their long wings. To kill they use their sharp claws to dig into the vertebrae that they’ve caught, and their long wings allow them to stay balanced in the air whilst they’re targeting prey.

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Their wings are tapered and thin which allows them to fly at very high speeds and these increases as they mature – they can reach top speeds of 390 km/h. This is the top speed of a peregrine falcon which is the fastest flying bird on Earth. For young falcons, they use their less able, long flight feathers to learn prey hunting skills that will make them well suited for hunting. Other falcons include Lanner, gyrfalcon, Merin, and hobbies. Like all birds of prey, falcons are equipped with a superior vision which is twice as good as humans.


Hawks belong to the Accipitridae family and the Accipitridae family contains several genera with the hawk being the largest and most common bird in the genera. The in the subfamily there are different genera which include the Accipiter, Melierax, Megatroirchis, and Mictronisus. Within the Accipiter, genera contain different birds like the sparrowhawk, goshawk and sharp-shinned hawk – these are the most common birds in this general but there are plenty more. A hawk has a long tail which is its main characteristic.

Size Difference Between the Two Birds

Between Falcons and Hawks, it can be hard to distinguish them by size along. If you have a good eye, you’ll be able to notice that a falcon is smaller than a hawk but since these birds come in many species, it can be hard to distinguish them both. There are small falcons and there are large falcons, the same way there are small hawks and large haws. When differentiating between these two birds, you should avoid using size as a way to do this.

Flight Pattern

The hawk and falcon have distinguishable wings which means they both fly differently. If you see a falcon, you’ll notice that they beat their wings more rapidly and they engage in small bouts of gliding. Hawks on the other hang have wings with a larger surface area so they flap their wings more slowly. They also tend to do more gliding than a falcon.

Wing Shape

One of the easiest ways to distinguish between the two is to look at their wing shape. Falcons have long slim wigs that are pointy towards the end where has a hawk’s wings are wider compared to its body, they have rounded ends. Hawks that are larger such as eagles will have feathers they are separated on the end of its wings making them look fingers. Since falcons are faster, they need slim pointy aerodynamic wings so that the wind doesn’t resist them when they’re flying.

Head Shape

Another way you can tell the difference between a falcon and a hawk is to look at its head shape. If you’re looking at the bird from an angle, this can be a good way to tell which bird it is. Falcons have short rounded heads while hawks have long pointed heads. This is constant throughout in eagles, accipiter’s, and buetos. Flacons also have striking facial markings whereas a hawk doesn’t.

What the Birds Look Like

Peregrine falcon (most popular falcon) are smaller than red tail haws and they’re about the same size a crow. If you see a grey and white bird, then it’s going to be an adult Peregrine. Their bellies chests and legs are striped with dark dray hair and their wings and backs are grey. If you look at their cheeks, then you’ll see malar stripes which are sideburns. These visual characteristics are consistent in male Peregrine falcons.

Red-tailed hawks (most popular hawks) are bigger than falcons and crowns. They’re colored white on their chest and brown on their heads, backs, face, and wings. They’re colored brown down to their shoulders. If you see a rusty tail on a red-tailed hawk, then it’s an adult one. If you see a young one, then their tails will be brown with horizontal stripes. Red tail hawks also have brown marks on their bellies called a belly band.

A hawk has fingers on the end of its wings whereas a falcon doesn’t a falcon’s wings will look much more narrow and you may think they have finger-like feathers on the ends of their wings but if you look at a hawk’s wings, this will become much more apparent.

Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You See Them

What Time of Year Is It? – falcons like the peregrine have red tails and live in Pennsylvania throughout the whole year so the time that you see either a falcon or hawk isn’t going to matter. If you’re trying to spot a peregrine, it’s going to be harder during June and July because that’s when they’ll both be active.

Where is the Bird Habituated? – If you see them in the country or the suburbs, then it can be either a hawk. If you see them in the city, then it can be either a falcon or a hawk. If you see them on the highway, it’s likely going to be a red tail hawk. If you see them in a tree, then it’s likely a red tail hawk. If you see them close to humans, then it’s likely a red tail hawk. If you see them sitting on the ground, then it’s likely a red tail hawk. If you see them on a bridge, then it could be either a falcon or hawk.

Animals Hawk
Red Tailed Hawk
Peregrin Falcon
Kingdom Animalia Animalia
Family Accipitridae Falconidae
Genus Accipiter/Buteo Falco
Order Accipitriformes Falconiformes
Average Head & Body Length 12-27 in (29-65 cm) 11-25 in (25-65 cm)
Average Weight 0.3-3.8 lbs 0.2-3.8 lbs
Top Speed 150 mph 242 mph
Area Central America, North America, Jamaica, the West Indies Falcons can be found around the world except for Antarctica
Speed 10 10
Force 8 6
Technique 7 10
Stamina 8 8
Intelligent 8 8
Weapon Beak, sharp talons Beak, sharp talons
Average Life Span 13-20 years (can live up to 25 years) 12-20 years (can live up to 25 years)

Facts About Falcons

  • There are about 40 species of falcon that live all around the world.
  • Falcons can live for up to 25 years, but their life span is usually between 12-20 years.
  • Falcons are carnivores and they mainly eat rodents, fish, and small insects.
  • The largest type of falcon there are Gyrfalcon and they can reach lengths of 20-25 inches and weigh 2-5 pounds.
  • Falcons can be found all over the work except Antarctica.
  • Falcons can adapt to where they are and, in most circumstances, which is why you will find them living all over America. You can find them in the desert, arctic, or grassland.
  • Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world, and it can reach top speeds of 390 km/h.
  • Falcons are known to hunt during the daytime.
  • Female falcons are usually longer than male falcons and they’re both know to take care of their offspring.
  • Falcons are known for their good eyesight and they can see 8 times more clearly that humans.

Facts About Hawks

  • Hawks can distinguish between different colors whereas a lot of other animals can’t.
  • Hawks are known for their great eyesight and can locate their prey from 100 feet.
  • They sharpen their beaks before killing their prey which makes it more efficient to tear them apart.
  • Typically, female hawks are larger than male hawks.
  • Hawks can be as long as 22 inches and with up to 5 pounds.
  • Like falcons, then hunt during the day and are known as diurnal animals.
  • Hawks can pretty much eat anything, and their diet mainly consists of frogs, rodents, snakes, birds, and other reptiles.
  • They are known for performing in the air and the male birds can perform aerobatics for up to 10 minutes.
  • They can live up to 25 years just like falcons and their life span can be between 13-20 years.
  • They are monogamous animals and they mate will the same partner for life until one dies.
  • Hawks can be found all around the world except for Antarctica.
  • Just like falcons, hawks can adapt to different types of habitats and they can be found in the dessert, arctic, and grasslands just like falcons.
  • There are over 270 species of hawk in the world.
  • Chances of Seeing Anything Other than a Red tail or Falcon

The chance that you’ll see anything other than a red tail hawk or a peregrine falcon is low. You’re more likely to see a Red Tail hawk if you live in America because they’re much more common than Peregrine falcons. Peregrine falcons are rare but if you live in Pittsburgh, you’re more likely to see them. Red rail hawks are very common in North America so if that’s where you’re situated, chances are you saw a red tail hawk.

Bottom Line

By using these guidelines to tell between a falcon and a hawk, you’ll be able to identify them when you’re bird watching for the raptors. If you’re using binoculars, you’ll be able to identify their features a lot quicker and this will save you more time. With binoculars, it also saves you from missing the bird while it’s on standby. As you do this more often and gain more experience, you’ll be able to tell what species is flying by and you’ll become better at spotting them.