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Falcon vs Eagle – The Main Differences

Falcon vs Eagle – The Main Differences

Comparing falcon vs eagle isn’t easy. Falcons and eagles are powerful birds that have been admired for thousands of years. Various species of falcons and eagles occur in most parts of the world but, they have often been confused with each other. Both have sharp, hooked beaks, and sharp talons, but falcons and eagles are very different types of birds.

Falcons belong to the Falconidae or Falcon family, and the eagles are in the Accipitridae or Hawks, Eagles, and Kites family.

Amazingly, according to DNA studies, falcons are distantly related to parrots and parakeets (!), and eagles are more related to hawks, vultures, and owls.

Falcons tend to have quick flight, most have a short beak with a small “tooth” on it, and they catch birds, whereas eagles are large birds of prey that soar more often and catch a wider variety of prey items.

As an adaptation for quick flight, most falcon species also have more pointed wings than the broad, long wings of eagles.

 

Body & Shape

Most falcon species are completely adapted for fast flight. Few other birds can fly as well and fast as falcons, especially birds like the Peregrine Falcon, the fastest creature on the planet. Kestrels, Merlins, and other “Falco” falcon species have an aerodynamic shape with a rounded head and a body that tapers to a narrow tail.

Aplomado-Falcon

Eagles, on the other hand, are built for strength. Eagle species like the Bald Eagle are larger and much bulkier than falcons. They have bigger and stronger bills, a large body with a large head on a longer neck, and a shorter, broader tail.

Bald Eagle

As with other birds, we can tell what falcons and eagles are up to by the shape of their wings. Most falcons have long, pointed wings to zip after swallows, ducks, pigeons, and other swift birds.

Eagles have long wings too, but their wings are broad; the perfect structure for soaring high overhead for long periods of time. The short and broad tail of the eagle also helps it soar whereas the narrow tail of the falcon improves its quick and direct flight.

Both raptors have taloned feet but the feet of falcons tend to be smaller than the big, strong feet of eagles.

 

Falcon vs Eagle Size

As with other birds of prey, the females of eagles and falcons are always bigger than their male counterparts.

Eagles are much bigger and heavier than falcons. A few of the largest are the Philippine Eagle and the Harpy Eagle.

These rainforest eagles are more than three feet long, have a six foot wingspan, and weigh ten to twelve pounds or more.

The massive Stellar’s Sea-Eagle is even bigger, has a wingspan that can reach eight feet, and weighs 11 to 22 pounds! The Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle are also huge birds around 30 inches in length, with wingspans of more than six feet, and weigh six to fifteen pounds.

Falcons are much smaller. The largest species, the Gyrfalcon, is similar in size to a Red-tailed Hawk (22 inches long, wingspan of 47 inches, and weighing two pounds), and although the Peregrine Falcon is a fairly large bird, it is still much smaller than every eagle and smaller than many hawks.

Related: Eagle vs Hawk vs Falcon

This fast and nimble falcon is 13 to 23 inches long, has a wingspan of 29 to 47 inches, and weighs one to one and a half pounds. The Kestrel, one of the smaller falcons, is about the same size as a Blue Jay, while the smallest is the Pygmy Falcon, a tiny bird from Africa that weighs two to three ounces, and is 7.5 inches in length.

 

Speed

Falcons and eagles can fly fast but one is much faster than the other.

The falcons are the fastest flying birds in the world, with some species effortlessly cruising at 50 miles per hour and reaching 200 mph during dives.

The world record is held by a Peregrine Falcon clocked at 242 miles per hour! This is incredibly fast but other falcons also fly very fast, both in direct flight and during dives.

Peregrine Falcon

Falcons are built for speed – their bodies are aerodynamic in every sense.

The Merlin chases small birds at 30 mph or more, and larger falcons like the Prairie Falcon and Gyrfalcon may fly as fast as the Peregrine, at least in a direct flight. One little-known tropical species, the Orange-breasted Falcon, may also fly as quickly as a Peregrine and even surpass it when it dives on pigeons, swifts, and parakeets.

Eagles might not fly as fast as a Peregrine but they can move when they want to. Both Bald and Golden Eagles can fly 35 to 40 miles per hour and come close to 100 mph when they dive towards prey.

Related: What is a group of eagles called?

Other eagle species living in rainforests can zip and maneuver past huge trees at 40 or even 50 mph but most fly and soar high overhead on slowly flapping wings.

When they see potential prey, eagles dive down, often at an angle, to sneak up on the animal. Falcons, on the other hand, fly fast and direct with quickly flapping wings.

 

Age

The average lifespan of a wild Peregrine Falcon is 16 to 20 years, but birds in captivity may live longer. Similar lifespans have been recorded for the Gyrfalcon and the Prairie Falcon, while the small American Kestrel lives around 5 years in the wild and up to 14 years in captivity.

Eagles tend to live longer than falcons. In the wild, Bald Eagles live 20 to 25, but one wild bird was confirmed to be 38 years old, and in captivity, they can even live past 40. In the rainforests of the Americas, the Harpy Eagle lives for 25 to 35 years and can probably live longer in captivity.

The main factors affecting lifespans of falcons and eagles is the amount of food available, predators during the nesting stage, and persecution by people.

Falcon nests can be attacked by eagles and owls and many young birds die because they don’t learn how to catch prey but once they reach adulthood, large falcons have few predators.

Eagles have a similar situation but have even fewer predators. As long as enough prey is available, and people don’t shoot them, adult falcons and eagles live until they become too old to catch their own food.

 

Falcon vs Eagle Behavior

Falcons live in a variety of places, but mostly near rivers and other open areas where they can chase and catch their prey. They also need cliffs or other high perches for nesting.

One species, the Peregrine Falcon, has become adapted to living in cities, and many nest on buildings instead of on cliffs; the falcon’s usual nesting site in wilder areas. Such urban falcons eat pigeons, gulls, and other birds caught during spectacular dives.

Related: What do falcons symbolize?

Falcons can be aggressive in defense of their young and will dive on people trying to climb to the nest. However, they don’t bother people in other situations.

Some falcons may also chase other birds even if they don’t plan on catching them. This is especially true for the Merlin, a small, energetic falcon that chases crows and other larger birds seemingly for the fun of it.

golden-eagle

 

Eagles tend to live in wilder areas that provide abundant food and nesting sites on cliffs or on huge trees. Most eagles are not aggressive except in defense of their nest and, like falcons, may attack people trying to climb to the nest.

Most are wary of people and would rather stay away from us, however, we do have to be careful of small pets. If we brought a pet Budgie outside, a falcon wouldn’t hesitate to attack it, and eagles can attack and carry away cats and very small dogs.

Since Golden Eagles catch and eat small foxes, to avoid a terrible tragedy, we shouldn’t let Pomeranians or other small dogs roam free where Golden Eagles occur.

 

Diet

Falcons and eagles eat other animals but there isn’t much overlap in their diets. Although falcons, known as caracaras, feed on small animals and carrion, most other falcons catch birds.

The Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon, related species, and kestrels also feed on small rodents in addition to birds. Merlins catch warblers, sparrows, and other small birds, while the Peregrine eats pigeons, ducks, sandpipers, and other medium-sized birds.

Bald Eagle taking off

Eagles also catch birds on occasion, but they eat a lot more fish (the Bald Eagle), rabbits, and similar animals.

Golden Eagles can take larger prey including foxes, small goats, and many other animals, and pairs of another large eagle species, the Wedge-tailed Eagle of Australia and New Guinea, can even catch kangaroos!

Other eagles in tropical places routinely eat monkeys, sloths, and other medium-sized animals. The Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle also feed on carrion, especially during the winter months.

 

Location

Falcons and eagles live in many of the same areas. Various species of falcons and eagles live in just about every habitat on the planet (except for Antarctica) but most prefer wild forests, grasslands, tundra, or savannas with plenty of animals to prey on.

In North America, Peregrine Falcons live in cities and places with cliffs, the Gyrfalcon lives in high Arctic tundra and rarely ventures south to similar wide-open fields and prairies also preferred by the Prairie Falcon, and the Merlin prefers semi-open wooded areas where small birds fly over water or other open spots.

The American Kestrel lives in meadows and grasslands, where it hunts mice, grasshoppers, and other small animals.

In North America, Bald Eagles frequent coastal areas, lakes, rivers, and other wetlands near forest, and many urban areas.

As long as they have enough fish to catch, other food to eat, and large trees for nesting, Bald Eagles should be present. The Golden Eagle prefers wild areas of forest, or grasslands and other open habitats where few people live.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that this species is much more frequent in wild, less populated areas of the western states and provinces.

 

Nest & Eggs

Most falcon species do not build a nest but lay eggs on a ledge of a cliff, or building with enough space to raise their young. These nests are known as an “eyrie”, and are often used year after year.

The Peregrine Falcon lays two to three, reddish or brown eggs with brown speckles that weigh 46 grams each.

Baby Eagles

Eagle nest with two young eagles. Photograph © Deborah Freeman

Eagles make huge and bulky platform nests high in big trees in forest, savanna, or next to a marsh or other wetland. The Bald Eagle lays two to three, white eggs that weigh 130 grams each.

Falcon vs Eagle – Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a falcon and an eagle?

Falcons are smaller, fly faster, and have narrower wings than Eagles. Eagle species are larger, bulkier, and soar more than falcons.

Who is stronger falcon or eagle?

The eagle is a stronger, more powerful bird than the falcon, but the falcon is faster.

Is a falcon part of the eagle family?

No. The falcon is not in the same family as the eagle. All falcon species are members of the Falconidae family.

Are eagles and falcons enemies?

No, in most places, eagles and falcons are not enemies. However, occasionally, an eagle may attack a falcon nest.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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