Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

Hawk vs Eagle: What’s the Difference? (With Pictures)

Last Updated on

Hawks and eagles are two different birds of prey. The hawk tends to be smaller and less powerful than the eagle, although there are hundreds of different species of hawks with varying colors and markings.

Eagles have a larger wingspan, and although there are fewer varieties of eagles, there’s still a range of shapes, sizes, and markings. For the most part, however, eagles have feathers down to their toes, yellow or white beaks, and live approximately 30 years.

Below, we have listed some of the big differences between the majestic eagle and the impressive but comparatively humble hawk. Although they are both birds of prey, there are some distinct differences in their physical appearance, diet, and the way they hunt and nest.

binoculars divider

Visual Differences Between Hawks and Eagles

Image credit | Left: Hawk (Source: 12019, Pixabay), Right: Eagle (Source: Bryan Hanson, Unsplash)

At a Glance – Hawk vs Eagle

  • Average wingspan (adult): 20 – 60 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 3 – 5 pounds
  • Lifespan: 15-22 years
  • Habitat: Forest, woodland, fields, desert, marshlands, wetlands
  • Diet: Small mammals, insects, small birds
  • Number of broods: Usually 1 per year
  • Clutch size: 2 – 6
  • Trainability: Can be trained over time
  • Average wingspan (adult): 44 – 110 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 1 – 20 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10 – 30 years
  • Habitat: Forests, woodland, fields, desert, rivers, lakes
  • Diet: Small mammals, small birds, fish, lizards
  • Number of broods: Usually 1 per year
  • Clutch size: 1 – 3
  • Trainability: Possible, but difficult, with some

eagle divider

Hawk Overview

Harris hawk
Image Credit: Kevinsphotos, Pixabay

The hawk is a strong bird, although it is comparatively smaller and weaker than the typical eagle. There are more than 200 species of hawks around the world, and they can live in any habitat from the tall trees of forests to deserts and inhospitable locales. Although they can be seen in some rural areas, they do tend to prefer living, hunting, and breeding in the wild.

They have sharp talons, excellent eyesight, and muscular legs, all of which help them to bring down their prey. While most hawks feed on small mammals and rodents, some eat fish while others eat amphibians and even lizards or small birds.


The hawk is part of the Accipitridae order of birds. It is a diurnal animal, which means that it rests at night and hunts during the day. If you see a bird of prey overhead during the day, it is likely to be one of the many breeds of hawk rather than an owl, which is nocturnal, or an eagle, which is not as common as the hawk.

They are not considered aggressive birds, but they can have a strong maternal sense, which has led to occasional hawk attacks on humans. They may also attack puppies and small domesticated animals, although this is rare.


Hawks generally prefer to live in an open area, making it easier for them to spot prey. Many like to nest high up in tall trees, which means that they may nest in woodland and hunt in open fields. A few species will live near open water sources like rivers and lakes, while some reside in deserts.

Hawks are adaptable animals, and there are many different species, but the hawk does tend to prefer these conditions.


hawk in flight
Image Credit: chrisrobbins950, Pixabay

There are many species of hawk, and each has its preferred habitat. Hawks, like all raptors, including eagles, have exceptional eyesight. They can even see some colors on the UV spectrum, which means that they can see their potential prey and their surroundings in much finer detail than humans and other animals.

The sharp-shinned hawk, for example, will attempt to flush smaller birds out of vegetation and then grab them in flight. Some hawks prefer to hunt from a high perch. The red-tailed hawk, although capable of high-speed flight and taking down its quarry while flying, will usually sit on a rooftop or a powerline and simply wait until it sees the ideal prey.


Some hawks, like the red-tailed hawk, mate for life and remain monogamous. Most species have a single brood each year, which can vary in size from two to seven eggs. Both sexes will incubate the egg and both parents will feed the bird from when it hatches until it reaches several weeks of age.

eagle divider

Eagle Overview

Image Credit: Cristofer Jeschke, Unsplash

Eagles are very large and strong members of the raptor, or bird of prey, family. They usually have yellow hooked beaks and feathers that run right down their legs to their feet. They are strong, fast, and are considered formidable creatures. They do share some similarities to the hawk, but they are the stronger, larger, and faster of the two types of birds. Like the hawk, the eagle is diurnal, so hunts during the day, when you will be more likely to see it in wooded areas.

Eagles will try to avoid human contact, where possible. However, in heavily built-up areas, they can sometimes be found atop the tallest manmade structure, such as a church tower or a windmill.


Different species of eagles live in different habitats. Generally, however, they build their nests high in trees or on the edge of cliffs, so they do require vertical space. Many choose to live next to open water, such as a lake, especially because this allows hunting for fish and for other birds that might also prey on aquatic animals.

An eagle will normally locate the tallest tree or structure in an area, to live in. With a tree, this is called a super canopy because it affords a view of the rest of the trees and the whole area. It is also a good place to start when trying to spot eagles.


Eagle in flight
Image By: Mathew Schwartz, Unsplash

Eagles kill with their powerful and sharp talons. Each foot has four sharp talons with three at the front and the larger hallux talon at the back. They will watch the water from a high perch and swoop down, pulling a fish from the surface of the water, when they spot them. Some eagles are opportunistic predators, which means that they will also steal live prey from other hunters.


Eagles become sexually mature at around 4 years of age. The male and female will build a nest together, which helps them bond. They will usually return to the same nest year after year, and most species of eagle mate for life, unless a partner dies early, in which case the remaining eagle will find another mate. A clutch will usually consist of just one or two eggs, although some species will have more. The young eagles will fledge at around 10 weeks, although some species take a bit longer before they fly the nest.

binoculars 3 divider

Hawk vs Eagle – Conclusion

Hawks and eagles are birds of prey and they share several similarities, in this respect. They like to live in similar habitats, are diurnal hunters, and they will feed on some of the same animals. However, while the hawk is more common, the eagle is stronger, tends to be much larger, and has greater hunting prowess. If you want to spot either breed, you should first start by looking for their source of food and then finding the type of habitat they like. For eagles, this typically means finding the highest tree or even a manmade structure.

You might also be interested in:

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.