• The first noticeble difference is size, full grown eagles a much larger than hawks. Of course when your on the ground and its in the air is it a large bird far away or a smaller one closer? But a large male mature bald eagle can have a wing span of eight feet! The largest hawks are less than five feet. It's important to know if you are in a place where there might be eagles. If you are not, then half your problem is solved. The shape of the bird, the coloration, and the method of flight are the best indicators. The mature bald eagle of course has a white head, the beak and unfeathered legs are yellow, the wings are broad ( close to half as wide as they are long), rounded at the ends, the undersides of the wings are darker at the back and ends ( the primary feathers), dark gray to almost black, than the front edges and inner parts which are light gray, the tail is fan shaped and white on the bottom. The wing beat rhythm is several steady deep full strokes followed by a glide of about the same time length as the beats before it, when soaring the wings are held in a relatively straight line, the soaring flight path may be a long straight line, a series of long curves, a figure eight or one or two large circles. The golden eagle has a golden brown head, the entire body is brown with feathered legs, front part of wing is darker than the primaries, tail is fan shaped with white bars across .Wing beat is similar to bald eagle with a shorter glide time, the entire flight seems lighter, doesn't soar as much as bald eagle. In the US is found from western Great Plains to Pacific. The bird most confused with eagle because of size is the vulture, there are two in the US the black and the turkey vulture, both are all black but with very white primaries, a very visible contrast when over head. No feathers on head so it looks too small for body, even headless sometimes. Champion soarers, it seems they can float for hours without a wing beat. They hold their wings in a very shallow V, or more like a parentheses on its side ) with the body "hanging" at the bottom, they look very relaxed, and they kind of rock from side to side. They soar in circles, usually in groups, as the ride thermals (rising hot columns of air) higher and higher and then spread out over vast areas. There are three main groups of "hawks", the Falcons are small ( kestrel wingspan less than a foot [30cm]) and have obviously pointed narrow wings. They flap their wings more or less constantly ( they can 'hover' in one place in a strong head wind) and then dive. The peregrine falcon is the world's fastest bird. In a power dive it exceeds speeds of 320 kilometers -- about 200 miles -- per hour. ( BTW-The Guinness Book of World Records came into being after a pub argument and bet over the fastest flying bird. Sir Hugh Beaver of Guinness Breweries used his fortune to research the question. ) You won't mistake any of them for eagles. Another group is called accipiters, they mostly live in the woods and don't soar. They flap flap glide, or even just 'fly' flap flap flap... as they twist and turn chasing their prey. You won't think they are eagles either. The third group is the buteos, They are some of the larger ones and do soar, usually with a flap or two and a downward glide to gain speed then a climbing glide to soar some more. They are the closest in shape to the eagles, size is the best judge, and most of them are various tones of brown to buff to white underneath.The under body and wing patterns vary a lot, but generally their are short brown streaks on the breast, from just a few to so many that it is more of a brown streaked with lighter colors. The lower parts are usually unmarked lighter and the tail is usually darker than that. Your best bet is to visit the library and check out a copy of Roger Tory Peterson's " A Field Guide to the Birds of (Eastern,or Western ) America", depending on whic side of the Mt Twain's river you live on. ( Or Texas, cause he had to make a special book for us since we got birds from all over, fact is we got more birds than anywhere else in the whole Huge Nighted Sates of America) Mr Peterson came up with a simple way of telling birds apart, he describes and illustrates a few very common species in great detail and then shows you, with more illustrations some simple ways to tell what other birds are by comparing them to the familiar ones. For example on one page he illustrates 'sparrow sized birds with brown breasts'. He also has silhouettes of what the raptors look like overhead. Once you use that liberry book I bet you'll wanta buy one, and you can get used ones, since birds don't change models every year. And once you learn the birds you're most likely to see, you'll be able to identify the less common ones. Whew! this turned out to be a looong answer. Maybe, if you want, I can ramble on about a great place, Palo Duro Canyon, where I used to stand on the rim and be at eye level with, or even above, Bald and Golden Eagles and other raptors, and hike up a side canyon and see if I could fool vultures into thinking I was a goner. And In Big Bend, we'd walk away from the camp table after breakfast and watch vultures drop out of the trees and fight over the leftover pancakes.
  • Also, eagles are accipiters, while many hawks are not; so there's a good place to begin to separate the two. An accipiter has narrower wings and longer bodies, with a noticeable differentiation between were the tail is and were the edge of the wings is. A buteo, like the red tailed hawk, has broader wings and the outer-lower edge of the wings look almost like they over lap the tail; this gives it a more compressed appearance. If you get a Peterson's Field Guide to Birds of Prey (from any bookstore) many of these differences are pointed out. Also it's important to determine if a bird has a strong dihedral, like the Turkey vulture, which can look like an eagle from the ground because they have such long wings. A dihedral is the way they hold there wings in flight, the bald eagle holds them in a slight dihedral meaning they form a very slight V when viewed from straight on in flight, a turkey vulture has a more sever V, and a red tail hawk holds them more perpendicular to their body and forms more of an M.
  • One of the most noticeable differences is the size Eagles have much larger body, longer winspan and vulture like appearance in flight but with full feathered head and sometimes with crest head feathers. you can also noticed the eagle's massive feet and larger talons with prominent large hooked beak compared to hawks. Hawks are like smaller versions of Eagles. Eagle and Hawk
  • Eagles eat baby hawks.

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