The Differences Between The NZ Falcon And The Harrier Hawk

It is easy to be confused between a falcon and a harrier Hawk (Kahu). At first glance they can appear similar, due to having a similar shape and colouring – but the differences are great.

The greatest difference is of course the numbers of each bird. The harrier Hawk is found in abundant numbers throughout New Zealand. Whereas the falcon is extremely rare.

The harrier Hawk is also larger than both the male and female falcons, in fact almost twice the size of a female falcon.

When flying the harrier Hawks tend to flap their wings, then glide before flapping again. The falcon is much faster and has a constant very rapid wing beat.

Differences Chart

Differences Karearea NZ Falcon   Kahu – Harrier Hawk
Size Magpie size
½ size of Harrier
300 – 500 grams

Black-backed gull size

1 kg

Status Endangered Common
Description Dark and fast
Black/dark brown above – barred below
Rufus/red “pants”
Speckled chest
Brown eyes
Brown bar on face (like a moustache)
Generally slow flying
Juveniles are dark brown
Get paler with age
Yellow eyes
Flying Away Rump is dark coloured Cream rump visible
Soaring Very fast wing beats
Wings flat for short time
Wings held in shallow “V” for lengthy periods
Flight Characteristics Flies fast – rapid wing beat Slow flight. Often flap-glide-flap
Hunting Very fast – stoops
Chases smaller birds
Searches slowly into wind.
Lands on carrion 
Typical Prey Small birds
Rarely eats carrion
Eats carrion
Call Rapid, piercing
Generally silent
Plaintive Kee-a
Flight Silhoutte Pointed wings
Straight tail
Angled back like an arrow
Fingered wings
Slightly rounded tail
Wide wing span

Table and information courtesy of the Raptor Association of New Zealand.