Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk: What’s The Difference?

falcon vs hawk

Written by Colby Maxwell

Published: February 17, 2022

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Peregrine Falcon vs Hawk

Peregrine falcon vs hawk are easily some of the most remarkable birds in the sky. They are both sleek and ferocious predators that stop anyone in their tracks as they point up towards the sky in wonder. While both of these birds are amazing, they do have some distinct differences. Let’s take a look at them and learn what makes them different.

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk: Size

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk

On average, hawks are slightly smaller than red-tailed hawks.

©TPCImagery – Mike Jackson/

Peregrine falcons average around 2 lbs and stand up to 1.5 feet tall. When it comes to their wingspan, they average around 3.5 feet long. Although these birds are larger than your average songbird or backyard raven, they aren’t huge by any means, especially for a bird of prey. Still, their sharp claws and beak are plenty deadly enough for them to get their food, despite their size.

Hawks, on the other hand, are a lot bigger. Red-tailed hawks, the most common hawk in the United States, are usually up to 2 feet tall and weigh up to 3 lbs. Additionally, a red-tailed hawk’s wingspan averages around 4.5 feet, almost a whole foot longer than the peregrine falcon.

Although hawks are larger, both of these birds are similar in dimensions and even in appearance. Still, the hawk is bigger than the average falcon.

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk: Top speed

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk

Peregrine falcons aren’t just faster than hawks, they are the

fastest animals

on the planet.

©Ondrej Prosicky/

When it comes to speed, these birds are truly the king. Between the two, however, the peregrine falcon easily takes the cake. Peregrine falcons are known as the fastest animals on earth, let alone the fastest bird. In a full dive, these birds are known to hit speeds of 240 mph before pulling up or hitting their prey with outstretched talons. Their wings have evolved special feathers to reduce drag and extra-large keel bones to get extra power and strength as they flap.

Red-tailed hawks are also incredibly fast, just not as fast as the peregrine falcon. When a red-tailed hawk goes in for a dive, they are known to reach speeds of up to 120 mph. This incredible speed is used for quick attacks on a variety of prey. While regularly flying, a hawk usually coasts at around 30-50 mph.

Between the two, peregrine falcons win in outright speed and are known as the fastest animals in the world.

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk: Range

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk

Both species are incredibly widespread, but the red-tailed hawk is more commonly seen in

North America


©Harry Collins Photography/

Peregrine falcons are well-distributed all over North America and into Central America. They can be found year-round in some parts of the Appalachian mountains, on the west coast, some parts of New England, around the great lakes, and from Arizona through central Mexico. Additionally, peregrine falcons can be sighted during the migration or breeding seasons across almost the entirety of North America. They are also found all over the world except in Antarctica. Their preferred habitat can range from open plains to mountains, with some even flying far out to sea while migrating. Overall, they are an incredibly widespread bird that isn’t too picky about where it lives.

The red-tailed hawk is also a great example of a bird that doesn’t mind too much where it lives. The red-tailed hawk is the most prolific and widespread hawk in North America. They can be found in all of the 49 continental states at some point during the year and close to 45 for the entire year. Additionally, they are found year-round through much of Mexico and the Caribbean islands, mainly Cuba, the Bahamas, and The Dominican Republic. They generally prefer open county, woodlands, and plains, but they can be found in almost every habitat imaginable, including urban and suburban areas.

These two birds share more similarities than differences when it comes to their range. The primary difference is that red-tailed hawks prefer to stay put for most of the year while peregrine falcons are distant migrators.

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk: Prey

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk


falcons primarily hunt other birds

while hawks are more generalists, eating almost everything.


These falcons are some of the best hunters of all the birds of prey. Other raptors may prey on small mammals and fish. The peregrine falcon, however, has specialized in a more macabre sort of food— dining almost exclusively on other birds. Their favorite food is often thought to be pigeons, but ducks, songbirds, and even geese are on the menu for these aerial hunters. In fact, the nickname for peregrine falcons has historically been the “duck hawk,” although they aren’t hawks at all.

Red-tailed hawks are much more general in their prey sources. They have incredibly diverse diets but mostly stick to small mammals., Squirrels, rabbits, moles, rats, mice, and more are all on the red-tailed hawk’s dinner menu. Additionally, they are known to eat reptiles, fish, and even crustaceans (when the environment allows it). As long as it moves and can be killed, a hawk will consider it food.

Peregrine falcons are more adapted to eating other birds, while red-tailed hawks are more general in their approach to food.

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk: Taxonomical difference

Peregrine Falcon Vs Hawk

Falcons evolved from songbirds and parrots while hawks are from something much more distant.

©Harry Collins Photography/

Although they look similar in some circumstances, these two birds come from different lines of evolution and have ended up in different groups.

The peregrine falcon is part of the taxonomical family known as the Falconidae. There are 60 species of Falconidae, all of which are diurnal birds of prey. Falcons, kestrels, and caracaras are all part of this family, of which the peregrine falcon is a species.

Red-tailed hawks are in the Accipitridae family, a group of birds of prey that include hawks, eagles, vultures, and kites, notably excluding falcons. Most members of the Accipitridae family used to be considered as part of the Falconiformes order. However, recent DNA studies have revealed a different evolutionary history. Falconiformes and falcons are now understood to be more closely related to parrots and songbirds, whereas those from the Accipitridae order aren’t.

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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