Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: The Key Differences

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: May 3, 2022
© TPCImagery - Mike Jackson/Shutterstock.com
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Two of the most famous birds in North America are the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. One is an icon of pure speed, the other the depiction of the United States. Although these two birds are quite similar, there are some distinct differences between them. Today, we are going to explore these birds in detail and learn what makes them unique. Let’s discover the Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle!

Comparing a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle

The peregrine falcon is a medium-sized raptor that mostly eats other birds, while the bald eagle is a large raptor that mostly preys on fish.

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Peregrine FalconBald Eagle
TaxonomyFamily: Falconidae
Species: Falco peregrinus
Family: Accipitridae 
Species: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
AppearanceDark blue or slate gray bodies. Barred white bellies with a bright yellow beak, eyesockets, and talons.Dark brown bodies with white heads and tails. Yellow beak and talons.
Wingspan2.4-3.9 feetUp to 8 feet.
DistributionNearly everywhere on earth.North America and Mexico.
SpeedRecorded diving at 240 mph.Up to 99 mph.
PreyVaries, but mostly medium-sized birds.Varies, but mostly fish.

The Key Differences Between a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle

The key differences between a peregrine falcon and a bald eagle are taxonomy, appearance, wingspan, distribution, speed, and prey.

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Peregrine falcons are quite famous for being the fastest animals on earth. In the same vein, bald eagles are famous for being the bird of the United States and are widely seen as a symbol of freedom. Both of these birds are raptors (birds of prey) and are somewhat related. Historically, hawks, eagles, vultures, kites, and falcons were grouped together under the Accipitriformes order, but hawks have since been broken off into their own order, Falconiformes.

Both of these birds are visually stunning, with regal forms and sharp features. The falcon is smaller and more nimble, while the bald eagle is larger and more accustomed to soaring long distances. Still, both are excellent flyers and hunt from the air, swooping down on their prey.

Let’s take a closer look at the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle and see what truly sets them apart in some more detail.

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: Taxonomy

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle
Falcons, the peregrine included, were split from the family eagles belong to once DNA evidence showed they weren’t closely related.

©iStock.com/hstiver

The peregrine falcon is a falcon belonging to the Falconidae family, along with 60 other species. Although falcons are quite similar to eagles, they have recently been separated into their own family after DNA testing revealed them to be relatives of parrots and passerines.

Bald eagles are members of the Accipitridae family, along with hawks, vultures, and kites. Members of the Accipitriformes order have hooked beaks, broad wings, and strong feet with talons. Additionally, almost all members are carnivorous and live long lives with few mates.

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: Appearance

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle
Bald eagles are brown with white heads and tails.

©iStock.com/Genfirstlight

Peregrine falcons are large birds with a dark blue (blue-black) body and a white belly. Their eye sockets, beaks, and talons are bright yellow. The white bellies of the falcons are barred, usually with brown, rust, or blue. Additionally, peregrines are sexually dimorphic, with the females being significantly larger than the males.

Bald eagles are well known and present on television, media, and even currency. They are one of the largest birds in the Americas, often weighing up to 14 lbs in the northern ranges. Their signature coloration includes a brown body and a white head and tail. In fact, their name (bald) is derived from an older meaning of the word that translates as “white-headed.” Their talons and beak are bright yellow.

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: Wingspan

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle
The peregrine falcon has a wingspan of 2.4 to 3.9 feet.

©Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock.com

The wingspan of the peregrine falcon is between 2.4 and 3.9 feet.

The wingspan of the bald eagle is usually between 5 ft 11 in and 7 ft 7 in, but large individuals have been measured up to 8 feet. Bald eagles are sometimes considered the largest of the true raptors in North America, with only the California condor beating it out. Many don’t consider the condor to be fair competition, however, as it is a vulture.

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: Distribution

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle
Bald eagles are only found in North America.

©iStock.com/ca2hill

The peregrine falcon has an extremely wide range and is considered to be the world’s most widespread raptor. The only land-based bird that rivals that of the peregrine falcon in terms of distribution is the pigeon. Peregrines live in almost any environment, with the exception of extreme environments like high altitudes, tropical rainforests, and extreme polar regions.

The bald eagle is the only sea eagle endemic to North America. Bald eagles can be found in every continental state of the U.S., with the highest population being found in Alaska. Additionally, they can be found in every territory of Canada and south into northern Mexico. Migrating populations often head south into the deserts of the U.S. during the winter, although not all members of the species are known to migrate.

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: Speed

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle
The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth, with a top speed of just over 240 mph.

©TPCImagery – Mike Jackson/Shutterstock.com

The peregrine falcon is known as the fastest animal on earth. Peregrines will tuck into a dive from extreme heights as part of their hunting strategy. National Geographic has recorded falcons reaching speeds as fast as 243 mph during their dive. This hunting strategy is extremely effective and leaves little time for potential prey to react. Additionally, the speed often kills the prey instantly.

The bald eagle is a flying bird, although it isn’t designed for speed like the peregrine is. Most bald eagles can cruise at speeds of 30-50 mph but can exceed 100 mph when they are motivated during a dive.

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle: Prey

Peregrine Falcon vs Bald Eagle
Bald eagles eat mostly fish.

©jbieger/Shutterstock.com

The preferred prey of a peregrine is medium-sized birds. Additionally, peregrines are known to target small mammals and reptiles. These raptors have the most diverse range of bird species as prey of any North American raptor, with a current estimate of around 300 species. The largest prey taken by a peregrine was a 7lb crane killed in Alaska.

Bald eagles are sea eagles, meaning they are mostly adapted to eat fish. In Alaska, for example, fish make up 66% of their diet. Other prey includes birds and small mammals. Since bald eagles are quite large, they can take prey significantly larger than the peregrine falcon.

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The Featured Image

Peregrine Falcon in flight, ready to land
The immortal phoenix in Harry Potter somewhat resembles a falcon.
© TPCImagery - Mike Jackson/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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