Hawks Vs. Falcons Vs. Eagles Vs. Osprey Vs. Kite - Comparison!

Are you fascinated by big birds? Here’s a comparison highlighting key differences between hawks, falcons, eagles, ospreys, and kites.

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Iñigo Navarro

July 11, 2021


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What’s This Post About?

Amidst the small and medium-sized birds flying steadily in the air, sighting a massive, rapidly aviating creature, flapping its enormous wings as it effortlessly soars high up in the sky is not a rarity.

If you’ve just begun your birding venture, being able to distinguish among the voracious creatures readily may seem quite daunting to you.

You might be contemplating which raptor ascended blisteringly from its high perch or which stooped down to powerfully grasp a potential prey, disappearing in a matter of seconds.

Seeming to be quite similar, making their identification challenging, there are noticeable differences between the various kinds of predatory birds.

Eagles are the largest of all predatory birds, with hawks and falcons relatively smaller in size. Each of these ravenous creatures has distinctly shaped wings to aid them in an acrobatic flight. Unlike the heavy build eagles, ospreys and kites are light-weighted raptors and can stay aloft for more extended periods.

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What Are Raptors?

The primary characteristic of eagles, hawks, falcons, kites and ospreys is that these are all huge-sized birds mainly feeding on vertebrates and mammals, many of which are large.

These creatures are powerful hunters feeding exclusively on meat. Animals such as insects, mice, rabbits, snakes, fish, among many others, constitute a significant part of their diet.

These large, voracious creatures are typically known as Birds of Prey - or Raptors.

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If we begin to explore raptors in-depth, you’ll learn that there are more than 500 species of them! However, there are certain attributes specific to the raptors.

  • Usually have robust feet equipped with trenchant talons to grasp and knock off the prey.
  • Have sharp and powerful hooked beaks to pierce into the flesh of the prey and tear it apart
  • Possess remarkable eyesight to detect their prey from a considerable distance
  • Usually kill and gobble alive animals but occasionally would feed on carrions
  • Usually found unaccompanied, flying alone, but may sometimes gather into flocks during the winter or where hunting animals are sufficient.

Comparative Guide for Raptors

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From a distance, it might be near to impossible to recognize the species of Raptors.

WARNING!

These Raptors wouldn't hesitate to knock you on the head or flying snappily by you, so don’t try going too near these aggressive species.

Since, in most instances, you can only observe these raptors from afar, using the proper birding scope is essential to decipher the characteristics of each of these birds.

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However, each of these raptors has specific, conspicuous characteristics that help you identify them. Though due to their similarities, these raptors might seem to have a substantial resemblance, making it challenging to identify them.

Read through this post to explore the dynamic differences among these raptors and learn how to distinguish between them!

Size

Bird Size Genus Length Wingspan Speed
Eagle Large Accipitridae 85-100 cm 180-230 cm 320 km/hr
Kite Large to medium-sized Accipitridae 50-66 cm 175 – 180 cm 130 km/hr
Osprey Large to medium-sized Pandionidae 50- 65 cm 150 – 180 cm 128 km/hr
Falcon Medium-sized Falconidae 20 - 65 cm 70 – 120 cm  320 km/hr
Hawk Medium-sized Accipitridae 45-60 cm 105 – 140 cm 190 km/hr

Generally, Eagles are the largest of all raptors. However, keep in mind that the size of the bird alone is not a determining factor in its identification. Not only is the scope challenging to estimate during flight, but there are significant differences among the species themselves.

For instance, hawks are larger than Falcons, but this does not assert that all hawks would be larger than falcons. Their size would vary considerably depending on the species.

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Physical Characteristics

Studying the physical characteristics and body structure of each raptor can help simplify the identification process.

To an amateur birder, these birds of prey might look quite similar to one another but closely observing them, you’ll note the distinct configuration of their tails and wings.

Eagle

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The most sizeable among the other predatory birds, eagles, are majestic. These raptors have sturdy, thick hooked bills with thick legs and robustly sharp nails, which serve as a salient feature to attack and capture the prey, ripping the flesh apart.

Eagles have broadly shaped, rectangular wing edges splayed into odd rounded ends shaped like fingers, which are evident during flight. The hefty built of the bird allows it to soar smoothly at a rapid pace.

Use your binoculars to note the beautifully patterned markings under the wings of an eagle when it is aviating in the sky.

Hawk

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Smaller in size than eagles, hawks are quite stocky birds with more compact body structures. They have sharp and trenchant talons, a huge curved bill, and muscular legs to aid in attacking their animals of prey.

The broad wings and long tail of the relatively heavy bird help it soar briskly and steer tightly through the air. Possessing remarkable eyesight, they can easily target their meals from afar.

Falcons

Even smaller than a hawk, falcons have a constricted body structure, giving them a slender look. Their wings are thinly structured, tapered at the edges, forming sharp pointed tips to allow the bird to dive swiftly, aviate rapidly and change direction around in the sky to make the accurate assault at their prey.

Unlike other predatory birds that only make use of their feet to launch an attack, falcons viciously use their bills to pierce and kill their prey if the talons do not make an aggressive enough attack that renders the prey lifeless. In addition, the lacerating tooth on the side of the beak enables the falcons to kill with their beak.

Kite

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These are remarkable aerialists known to stay aloft for long durations due to their lightweight. The long narrow wings give them buoyancy, along with the long, deeply forked V-shaped tail that enables the birds to fly with agility.

Their relatively weak legs do not hinder the brilliant acrobatic capacity of the raptor, allowing it to fly through long distances.

Osprey

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A fish-eating raptor, the osprey is the only species in its classification. This raptor is predominantly glossy brown on the upperparts, with greyish white on the breast, head, and underparts.

The raptor’s long and relatively narrow wings enable it to stay aloft near the water sources for an extended period. Ospreys can quickly grab the fish from the water surface with their long legs.

When aviating, the splaying finger-like edges of the wings with four long and one short wing, having a bend in the middle like a gull, give the osprey quite a distinctive appearance.

did you know?

Ospreys have distinct marking on their faces. Having an overall white face, they have peculiar black stripes that run from the beak across the eyes and sides of the head, giving it a distinct mask.

Flight Pattern

All these Raptors have astounding levels of speed with phenomenal aviating capabilities. However, due to their distinct wing and tail structures, they tend to have unique flight patterns.

Novice birders might find it tricky to identify the bird merely by its flight, but the manner of flying is a peculiar trait that can be a profound identifying feature.

fun fact

Most birds of prey take a look back at their shoulders before they voraciously strike the prey or right after they do so - except Eagles.

Eagle

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Eagles are often spotted gliding high up in the sky and steadily flapping their massive wings near elevated treetops and skyscraping building roofs.

The aerodynamic feathers enable these high flyers to slowly beat their wings around, maintaining their speed throughout and efficiently maneuvering around.

Eagles have highly adept eyesight with a robust visual acuity, making their potential prey from afar much easier.

Hawks

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Suddenly dashing from a hidden perch and attacking their prey within a matter of a few seconds, hawks have unique flight capabilities.

The long tail and broad wings enable the smooth maneuvering and swift soaring of the bird. Hawks have a typical characteristic flight pattern comprising of several quick intermittent flaps and a glide in between. The slow flaps of the hawks can be attributed to their greater proportional surface area.

Hawks are considered the most intelligent among all these raptors, maintaining high visual acuity as they gracefully and smoothly glide around.

Falcons

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This raptor is quite a swift flier due to its tapered wings, making rapid ascents and brisk plunges. Stooping at their prey, they catch them amid the flight with their swift and incredible dives.

Known for its agility, the robust and curved wings of the bird allow it to make sharper turns and fly at immaculate speed.

Beating their slender wings quite rapidly, falcons engage in shorter periods of gliding. The aerodynamic shape of the bird makes the bird proficient in aviating at exceptionally high speeds while mitigating the focus on precision.

Kite

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These excellent aerialists are relatively swift fliers, soaring through the air for much of their time, briskly aviating with buoyant wingbeats.

The narrow wings and fork-shaped tail give the bird high agility, making them acrobatic fliers across various habitats as they slowly flap and glide their wings angled backward.

The light built of the raptor allows it to stay aloft with minimal effort. The bird has the potential to wholly match the air to their wing lift area, allowing the kites to hover on the same spot for a few minutes.

Ever spotted that rapidly aviating raptor circling in the sky? You can bet it’s a Kite!

Osprey

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These exceptional fishermen have long and narrow wings to swiftly maintain flight for long periods above the water sources, occasionally stooping down to grab the fish in the water with their shallow, elastic wing beats.

During its aviation, the osprey’s wings are arched with drooping hands, which gives the bird a gull-like appearance.

Distribution and Habitat

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Among the astounding similarities of these raptors, knowing the kind of predatory species prevalent in specific areas adds to the simplification of the identification process.

Let’s take a look at where you are most likely to find each kind!

Eagles

Prefer to live in a healthy habitat with a considerable food supply to thrive. These raptors need large, undisturbed areas of forested land near the water sources such as lakes, rivers, marshes, and streams for nesting and roosting, usually building their nests in the elevated branches of trees or high cliffs.

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Other species of eagles, such as the Golden eagle, dwell in open habitats such as woodlands, coniferous forests, mountainous regions, plains, and tundras. One of the most widely distributed raptors, you can find them across western North America ranging from Alaska to Mexico.

Generally, eagles are not intolerant to human activities. However, they are still a rarity in the urban zones.

Hawks

These highly adaptable raptors can live anywhere, virtually dwelling a range of habitats, from extreme cold regions to tropical and arid regions as well as wetlands and scrublands.

However, these raptors favor open locations such as deserts and fields where high perches are readily available, making it easier to watch for the prey and ambush it ravenously.

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With time, these birds have also embraced the human environments and are no longer a rarity in the urban landscape.

Cities serve as a good site for these creatures to perch on the high-rise buildings, electrical wires, and tall, dense trees, watching over the open spaces along the roadside and grasp their desirable prey such as mice, squirrels, and reptiles moving around.

Hawks are widespread in Central America, West Indies, and  Jamaica.

Falcons

Ubiquitously inhabiting a wide range of habitats, falcons can be found all across the globe, from high mountains to the lower sea levels and tropical forests to semi-deserts and coastal regions except Antarctica.

Having an adequate food supply in the area - in the form of prey animals - is sufficient to dwell in an area for falcons.

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Prevalently inhabiting the open areas and woodlands such as grasslands, meadows, and tundras for a long time, these diurnal Falcons have gradually become a common raptor species in the urban habitats, adapting their nesting and feeding patterns to the cosmopolitan landscape.

The ledges of skyscraping buildings provide suitable nesting sites as they readily attack the large population of pigeons and starlings in the cities.

Kites

Kites are acrobatic flyers, preferring to stay aloft in the sky, and can be found in various habitats. However, typically, these birds prefer to live in open areas, marshes, and riversides.

The availability of scavenged food supplies in towns and urban landscapes has resulted in Kites becoming increasingly prevalent in these areas.

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did you know?

Kites are one of India's most common urban birds, having a massive population in the country.

Osprey

Rapacious hunters of fish, you’ll typically find these Raptors close to the waterlogged regions such as ponds and lakes where their primary food source is abundant.

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Although the bird can adapt to a wide variety of habitats, its most preferred location is near the water bodies providing sufficient food supplies.

did you know?

Osprey is the second most widespread species of raptor. It is present in every continent except Antarctica.

Type of Prey

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These carnivores feed exclusively on meat, hunting a wide range of prey around them. The rapidly aviating birds can grasp a bird in flight or assault ground-dwelling mammals and reptiles, piercing them with their nails and enjoying a ravenous meal.

Let’s closely explore the choices of prey of each of these raptors.

Eagles

Considered to be among the largest raptors, these strong and voracious creatures can attack and capture larger prey species, with fish constituting the major part of its diet.

Due to its remarkable eyesight, it can hunt onto its prey from afar, rapidly gliding towards it and unsuspectingly ambushing its target.

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Known for their fearless characteristics and exceptional hunting skills, they are ranked at the top of the food chain in the avian world.

Eagles prey on an extensive range of animals, primarily targeting fish and ground-dwelling mammals, reptiles, and birds, including rabbits, squirrels, mice, snakes, young deer, and grouse, decapitating their prey.

Even though they exist primarily on alive creatures, these voracious eagles do not mind scavenging the carrions as well.

Hawks

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Just like other Raptors, a hawk’s diet is entirely predictable, ravenously feeding on a large range of smaller animals.

Ambushing its target rapidly from behind hidden perches, amidst dense woodlands and forested regions, these adept hunters usually prey on ground-dwelling animals such as mice, rabbits, rats, snakes, fish, and squirrels, piercing the organs of the animals with their sharp talons.

Grabbing and gobbling on smaller birds like the dove and bugs is also a scrumptious treat for the hawks.

Falcons

Sitting on high perches such as roofs and elevated branches of trees, the falcons rapidly stoop to assault their prey.

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During the flight, they would swiftly turn and change direction to capture the smaller birds. Falcons living in the urban regions adeptly catch and kill the feral pigeons while those in the coastal areas vivaciously feed on ducks, gulls, and shorebirds.

These raptors also eat bats, rodents, and fish.

Kites

Due to their extraordinary flying capabilities, the birds stay aloft in the air, trying to detect their prey.

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Kites rapidly aviate towards their prey, attacking alive vertebrates and insects, deviating from the typical raptarion diet comprising of small mammals. Generally, these raptors scavenge on the carrions of other animals as well as garbage.

Osprey

Ospreys are piscivorous predators, with fish making up the major proportion of their diet. These huge brown and white Raptors exclusively feed on fish - typically referred to as seahawks or fish hawks.

The raptor captures its prey by diving into the water, sometimes submerging its entire body to catch the fish. Then, they would grab their food and enjoy their feast on a nearby perch. However, ospreys can even carry their meals for long distances, clenching them with their bills.

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Generally, an osprey eats fish weighing around 150-300 grams, but it can be as small as 50 grams to as much as 2 kg.

Very rarely, though, the ospreys may also prey on rabbits, rodents, and hares.

Keep Reading!

Appearing quite similar to a novice birder, once you begin analyzing the variations between raptors, you’ll note substantial differences in the birds’ size, wing and tail shape, body structure as well as common habitats of each.

It takes some time to become familiar with the distinct characteristics of each of these raptors due to their observable similarities, specifically their salivation for mammals, birds, and insects, and fish as delicious sources of food.

Keep in mind the noticeable attributes such as the wing and tail patterns, motion style, and desired prey species when identifying an eagle, hawk, kite, osprey, or falcon. This will help make your hunt amazingly easier!

Since you are now aware of distinguishing between these raptor birds, here’s an interesting post to read that will help you differentiate between a crow and a blackbird.

How To Tell a Crow from A Blackbird? 5 Key Differences

Are you contemplating how to identify the Black colored birds flying around? Read on to learn about the key differences between Crows and Blackbirds!

Iñigo Navarro Picture

By Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Iñigo Navarro Picture

Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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