You look up and see a large bird soaring on the breeze far above you. What kind of bird is it, you wonder? There are many different large birds, and they are often confused for each other because they have similar appearances and color patterns. In this article, we’ll compare the hawk vs. the eagle, two of the most commonly confused birds of prey in the world.
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Hawk?
A hawk is a small- to medium-sized bird of prey. There are many different kinds of hawks, as well as other birds that are called hawks but technically belong to other families.
True hawks belong to the scientific family Accipitridae and typically belong to the Accipiter genus. Sometimes other birds in the same family but belonging to different genera, such as harriers and buzzards, are also called hawks.
Frequently, falcons, which belong to a completely different family, are also referred to as hawks because of their similar size and appearance to true hawks.
Hawks live on every inhabited continent in the world. As noted, there are many different species even among those considered “true hawks;” perhaps as many as 200.
Hawks range in size from seven up to 27 inches depending on species and sex. In most cases, the female is slightly larger than the male.
Hawks hunt and eat a variety of different foods, including small mammals such as mice and rats, reptiles (including snakes), insects, fish, and sometimes smaller birds. Hawks silently stalk their prey from above, then dive-bomb at high speeds to capture it.
What is an Eagle?
An eagle is a medium to large bird of prey–in fact, eagles are generally considered the largest birds of prey in the world. Though some are roughly similar in size to medium and large hawks, most are significantly larger.
Eagles, like hawks, are also found in the Accipitridae family, though they belong to various genera within that family.
Eagles are also found on every continent except Antarctica. They come in many different types and classifications, including sea eagles, snake eagles, and hawk eagles (so named because of their relatively smaller, lighter bodies).
The largest eagles in the world, the great harpy and the Philippine eagle, both stand up to three feet tall or taller and can weigh up to 20 pounds. Many eagles have wingspans of six to seven feet wide, and females are generally larger than males.
Eagles are opportunistic predators that will hunt a variety of mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds. They tend to sneak up on their prey, swooping in for the kill before the prey animal is even aware of its presence.
Hawk Vs. Eagle: Similarities and Differences
Hawks and eagles have many similarities which make them easy to confuse. Check out the following video, to learn more about how to distinguish the difference between hawks and eagles.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the similarities and differences between these two large, powerful birds.
- Scientific family: Both eagles and hawks belong to the family Accipitridae. This family includes other birds of prey as well, such as buzzards, kites, and harriers.
- Physical features: From a distance, hawks and eagles look very similar–they are both large with wide wingspans, have powerful talons and sharp, curved beaks, and tend to come in similar colors and patterns. Though they do have some minor differences that make them easier to tell apart, the average person seeing a large bird soaring above them may be unable to tell whether it’s a hawk or an eagle.
- Diet: Hawks and eagles have similar diets. Both are opportunistic carnivores who will eat a wide variety of animals, from mice and rats, to fish and frogs, to smaller birds.
- Raising young: Hawks and eagles both build large nests that are primarily constructed of sticks and lined with softer materials such as grass, leaves, and moss. Both the male and female in a mating pair will work together to incubate the eggs and feed and care for the babies once they hatch.
- Size: The most notable physical difference between hawks and eagles is their size. While some of the larger hawks are as large as small eagles, most eagles are vastly larger than hawks.
- Strength: Eagles are not only larger than hawks, they’re also much stronger. Hawks have an average grip force of around 200 pounds per square inch, which is pretty impressive until you consider that an eagle’s average grip force is twice as powerful–400 pounds per square inch.
- Sounds: The bird calls of eagles and hawks are quite different and can help you determine which animal is making the sound if you are lucky enough to hear it. Hawks make a loud, screeching sort of noise, much like a rusty gate, while eagles produce high-pitched calls more closely resembling whistles.
- Number of eggs: Eagles typically lay fewer eggs than hawks. While on average hawks lay 3 to 5 eggs at a time, eagles usually only lay 1 to 2.
Hawk Vs. Eagle: Who Would Win?
So, if a hawk was forced to fight an eagle, who would win?
Though hawks and eagles often have overlapping territories, they rarely fight each other. Hawks tend to leave eagles alone because they know that the larger, stronger eagles could easily defeat them.
In terms of size difference, the largest hawks are typically smaller than small to average size eagles. As noted above, eagles are much larger than hawks, and this size advantage alone gives them a distinct advantage.
Also as noted, eagles have a grip strength up to twice as much as hawks. They could do a lot of physical damage to hawks simply by grabbing them with their talons.
Hawks have a slight advantage in the speed department; they can fly at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour and as much as 175 miles per hour when dive-bombing. Eagles typically fly at speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour and can dive-bomb up to 150 miles per hour (though the golden eagle can dive at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour).
So, a hawk might be able to out-fly an eagle; but if forced to fight instead of escape, it would most likely be overcome by the eagle’s superior size and strength.
Hawks and eagles are often confused because they look quite similar to each other and are both widespread throughout the world. That said, eagles are generally much larger and stronger than hawks, and if you know what to listen for, you can use their distinctive bird calls to help you tell the difference between them.