What Are The Differences Between An Eagle And A Hawk?

The golden eagle can weigh as much as 13.7 pounds.
The golden eagle can weigh as much as 13.7 pounds.

Eagles and hawks are two of the most well-known birds of prey, and both live in various regions of the world. The term hawk encompasses a wide variety of birds of prey, and some of the common hawk species include sharp-shinned hawks, goshawks, and sparrowhawks. In North and South America, the term hawk is also applied to several species of birds that are referred to as buzzards on other continents. The term eagle, on the other hand, refers to several birds of prey, some of which do not have a close genetic relationship. Most species of eagles can be spotted in Africa, Europe, and Asia. With only two, North America has the smallest number of eagle species. Hawks and eagles are two of the most commonly confused bird species due to their many similarities. However, the two birds also have many distinctive features that help set them apart.

Differences Between Hawks and Eagles


One significant difference between eagles and hawks is size. Ornithologists consider eagles to be significantly larger than most other birds of prey. One of the largest species of eagles is the golden eagle, which can weigh as much as 13.7 pounds. In comparison, one of the largest hawk species is the ferruginous hawk, which typically has a maximum weight of 4 pounds. Ornithologists believe that the eagle's large size is an evolutionary adaptation to enable it to survive in several regions of the world. The hawk's smaller size, on the other hand, is believed to be an adaptation to allow hawks to travel faster.


Most ornithologists agree that eagles are stronger than hawks, mainly due to their larger size. The eagle's strength can be attributed to several features such as the powerful talons and muscular legs. While hawks are also powerful birds, their strength is less compared to that of an eagle. Despite being weaker than eagles, hawks have firm grips that are vital for hunting.


Another factor that distinguishes hawks from eagles is the type of prey they hunt. Due to their greater size and strength, eagles hunt much larger prey. Hawks, such as the Cooper's hawk, have been observed preying on smaller birds such as the American robin, European starlings, pigeons, and jays. In addition to small birds, hawks also feed on voles, mice, rats, and squirrels. Eagles, on the other hand, feed on a wide variety of prey such as waterfowls, muskrats, and turtles. According to researchers from the Smithsonian Institute, eagles, particularly golden eagles, can also feed on deer. Both hawks and eagles have been known to feed on fish.


Another feature that distinguishes eagles from hawks is that eagles generally have a much larger wingspan. The eagle with the longest recorded wingspan is the wedge-tailed eagle, which has a wingspan of roughly 9 feet 4 inches. On the other hand, the hawk with the longest wingspan is the ferruginous hawk, which has a wingspan of roughly 4 feet 8 inches.

Effect of Pollution on Hawks and Eagles

Due to their position in the food chain, hawks and eagles are significantly affected by pollutants that contaminate their food sources. In 2015, researchers from Canada's McGill University found a Cooper's hawk with extremely high levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether in its liver, which is possibly the result of eating contaminated starlings.


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