It is hard for most people to tell hawks and falcons apart. This is because most raptors have overlapping characteristics, which can be difficult to differentiate. Although the birds look alike, they belong to different families. The name hawk is often used to refer to most birds of prey, even those that are not in the same family as hawks, like the falcons. While hawks and falcons share some characteristics, there are several differences between them. This article will discuss the difference between a hawk and a falcon, providing a complete guide for birders who want to master the art of telling the birds apart.
Falcon vs Hawk: Taxonomy
Falcon is a name that is used to refer to several species of birds that are part of the family Falconidae. The Falconidae family comprises different species, including the caracaras, laughing falcon, forest falcons, and falconets. On the contrary, hawks belong to the family Accipitridae. While all falcons belong to the same genus, hawks belong to different genera. The falcon belongs to the genus Falco whereas the hawk belongs to the Accipiter genus.
Other known falcons are the Lanner, Merlin, gyrfalcon, and the hobbies, which are small with wings that are long and narrow. In the subfamily Accipitrinae, there are several hawks, including the sparrowhawks, goshawks the sharp-shinned hawk, among others.
Although the falcon and the hawk may appear to look alike, there are physical features that you can use to tell them apart. If you observe both birds closely, you will realize that there are quite striking differences between the two birds. The following are some of the observable differences in appearance between falcons and hawks.
Size is one of the factors that can be used to tell the difference between a hawk and a falcon. Hawks are generally bigger than the falcons. Hawks are usually wider and have a longer tail than falcons. However, size alone is not enough to tell the two birds apart. The sizes may vary depending on the species.
There are small hawks and bigger falcons. For instance, the sharp-shinned hawk is a small hawk measuring approximately 9.4 – 13.4 inches long and weighing about 3.1 – 7.7 oz. On the other hand, the peregrine falcon measures about 14.2 – 19.3 inches long and 18.7 – 56.4 oz. This means that if you compare a peregrine falcon with a sharp-shinned hawk, the falcon is bigger than the hawk. Furthermore, it isn’t easy to estimate the size of a bird in flight. Therefore, you should consider other factors in addition to size when trying to differentiate between a falcon and hawk.
Shape of wings
If you carefully observe the shape of wings, you can tell a falcon from a hawk. Falcons have long, slender and tapered wings. The wings of the hawk are significantly shorter than the falcon’s. If you observe the birds in flight, the falcon has thin pointed wings, and the hawk has wider wings that spread at the ends to form a finger-like shape. This is an easier and more reliable feature of comparison than size. This is because the shape of wings is more consistent and does not vary across species like the size.
Shape of Beaks
The shape of the beak tends to look similar in most birds of prey. The beaks are adapted to the carnivorous diet of the raptors. The beaks are often short and strong and can be hard to differentiate. The falcon beak has an angular curve that they use to tear into their prey. However, the hawks have a smoother beak with a simple curve. Falcons use their beaks to capture and kill the prey. Therefore, their beaks are strong and adapted for this function. On the Contrary, hawks use talons to catch, kill, and tear into their prey.
Falcons are known for their super-fast speed. Falcons are generally faster than most birds during ordinary flight and when diving. This can be attributed to their thin, long wings and lightweight. In fact, Peregrine falcons have tremendous diving speeds and are the fastest animals on the planet. The peregrine falcon can dive at a 200mph speed. Hawks are relatively slower than the falcons both in ordinary and diving flight.
Difference in Flight pattern
Another distinguishing characteristic between the falcon and the hawk is the manner in which they fly. When flying, falcons flap wings faster, engaging in only short periods of gliding. On the contrary, Hawks glide further and more often, flapping their wings more slowly.
Other distinguishing features
The following are other features that you can use to tell the difference between hawk and a falcon.
- The hawk has a longer tail than the falcon.
- In terms of color, fully grown hawks are generally white and brown, whereas falcons are grey and white. However, just like size, the color might vary across species. For instance, you might come across falcons that are brown and white.
- The falcon has striking facial markings. Another facial feature that you can use to differentiate the two birds is the color of the cheeks. If the bird has brown cheeks, it is a hawk but if it has white cheeks it is a falcon.
- When you observe the birds closely, you will realize that the shape of the head is different. The head of the falcon is short and rounded, whereas that of the hawk is sleek pointed.
Hawks and falcons are birds of prey that have some common characteristics. For instance, they are carnivorous and have their beaks and talons adapted for hunting and killing prey. These common characteristics often make it hard to tell the difference between hawk and a falcon. If you are a new birder, you might find it especially difficult to distinguish between the two. However, with this guide to the differences between hawks and falcons, you can learn slowly and master the art.
Some of the key distinguishing factors include appearance, speed, flight pattern, and taxonomy. For instance, the falcons are faster than hawks. Furthermore, the hawks are generally bigger than the falcons. Hawks are slower in flight and glide more often for longer periods, unlike falcons which fly faster and glide only for short moments.
- The southern states of the US are home to some of the most beautiful birds of prey. Check out our article on the Hawks of Texas.
- Interested in birding? Check out our beginners guide to birding and get started.
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