Falcons vs. Hawks: A Comprehensive Guide to Their Differences

Sharing is caring!

Hawks and falcons: two exciting and popular bird families with a lot in common. They look much alike, with hooked beaks, sharp talons, and similar sizes.

They both have amazing eyesight, and they both are fantastic hunters. With so much in common, how do you tell these two kinds of birds apart?

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between falcons and hawks. We’ll even tell you whether a hawk or a falcon would win in a fight and what a “sea hawk” is on earth.

What Is the Difference Between Falcons vs Hawks?

Falcons and hawks are both raptors, which means they have hooked beaks and talons to help them tear into prey they have hunted. They can be of a similar size and appearance and are easy to mix up.

Sometimes they even get referred to by the wrong names. For example, a Peregrine Falcon is sometimes called a “duck hawk,” even though it’s not a hawk. It doesn’t help with the confusion!

However, hawks and falcons belong to different families. Hawks belong to the Accipitridae family, along with eagles, kites, and harriers. They are further divided into the Accipiter and Buteo hawks.

Falcons have their own family, the Falconidae. There are over 250 species of hawks but only 40 species of falcons.

While hawks and falcons tend to be medium-sized raptors, hawks generally come out on the larger end of the scale than falcons. Both are smaller than eagles, however.

Hawks have wide, rounded wings that are shorter than falcons. Falcons have long, slender wings that come to a point.

Falcons are known for their short bursts of high-speed flight. The fastest bird in the world, a Peregrine Falcon, can dive at speeds of over 200 miles per hour. Hawks, by contrast, will fly in slow circles or flapping and glide.

Smaller birds make up more of a falcon’s diet, while hawks eat more small mammals. Hawks typically kill prey with their feet and talons, while falcons are more likely to kill with the sharp edge of their beaks, called a “tomial tooth.”

Is an Eagle a Hawk or a Falcon?

An eagle is neither a hawk nor a falcon. However, eagles and hawks belong to the same family, the Accipitridae family. So what makes an eagle different from a hawk? Essentially, eagles are bigger and go after bigger prey.

In our article here, you can get a full breakdown of the differences between eagles and hawks.

Who Would Win a Fight, a Falcon or a Hawk?

Both falcon and a hawk would have a good chance against each other in a fight. Hawks have the advantages of size and strength, while falcons have speed and maneuverability.

Both birds have deadly weapons in the form of their beaks and talons, and both will hunt and eat other birds when they have the opportunity. The two birds also have excellent eyesight that helps them see prey in flight. 

The ultimate winner would probably come down to the species in question. There are many kinds of hawks and falcons, all different sizes.

Do Hawks Have Curved Beaks?

Hawk

Hawks, like all raptors, have curved beaks with sharp, hooked ends that they can use to tear apart their prey. Bigger hawks, naturally, have bigger beaks with a simple curve. This is because they’re birds of prey. 

Do Falcons Have Sharp Beaks?

Falcon

Falcons share the curved, hooked beaks that hawks have, with an additional feature. There is a notch on the upper mandible, or top part, of their beaks, called the tomial tooth.

It has a sharp edge used to sever the spinal column of prey animals, killing them quickly. This extra speed is important to a falcon’s mid-air hunting style.

Is a Red-Tailed Hawk Bigger Than a Peregrine Falcon?

Yes, a Red-Tailed Hawk is bigger than a Peregrine Falcon. Male Red-Tailed Hawks can be over 22 inches long with wingspans up to 52.4 inches. Female Red-Tailed Hawks are larger, with a length of up to 25.6 inches and similar wingspans.

Females weigh more, topping at 51.5 ounces, versus the males’ 45.9. On the other hand, Peregrine Falcons are similarly sized for both sexes.

Their maximum length is a few inches short of the Red-Tails, at 19.3 inches, with wingspans of over 43 inches. They can weigh a little more than Red-Tails, with the heaviest Peregrines weighing up to 56.4 ounces.

What’s the Difference Between a Sea Hawk and a Falcon?

So the first fact you need to know is that there is no such thing as a sea hawk. That’s right: despite the name made famous by the football team, no particular bird is called a sea hawk.

It is sometimes used as a nickname for various birds like ospreys or skuas, but that’s as close as you’ll get to any bird being a sea hawk. The differences between falcons and sea hawks are body shape, beak shape, and diving speeds. 

You might sometimes hear of birds being called sea eagles. This can refer to any bird from the Haliaeetus family. These eagles are all species that rely heavily on fish for their diets.

If you were going with the idea that an Osprey was a sea hawk, you could compare it with a falcon, such as a Peregrine Falcon. Ospreys are significantly larger than Peregrines.

They eat primarily fish, while Peregrine Falcons eat birds primarily. Peregrine Falcons are much more maneuverable in flight than Ospreys are. They also have high flying speeds, which allows them to capture prey. 

They must be since they mainly hunt other birds in the air. Ospreys dive to catch fish from the water, grabbing them with their deep, hooked talons on their reversible toes.

Swoop and Dive

Swift falcons and brawny hawks have a lot in common and a few key differences. Now you have a bird’s eye view of these raptors and their lives that will help you differentiate them in the field.

Enjoy well-earned time with these striking birds, and see how many you can spot!

Sharing is caring!

Stevie Miller

Stevie Miller is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience. Her lifelong passion for birds began young, starting with a citizen science project at her aunt’s bird feeders, followed by a memorable first-time birdwatching trip to Assateague Island. Later, she got the opportunity to help birds directly while working as a veterinary assistant. Now she enjoys frequent time outdoors, traveling extensively to observe the birds, animals, and plants that inspire her writing and artwork.