Falcons & Hawks

You may know a hawk from a handsaw. But do you know it from a falcon?

Roughly speaking hawks are broader but shorter winged, have a hooked and a longish tail. They typically kill with their talons in the strike as they land on their prey.

That’s not quite the full story, though. In taxonomy “true” Hawks are members of the Accipitrinae subfamily, of the Accipitridae family. The main family is big and includes birds such as buzzards and harriers as well. Oh yes, and Eagles. Too many. I think I will stick to true hawks!

Sparrowhawk (Bohuš_Číčel)
Northern Goshawk, RSPB

I almost walked into a hawk on the crown of Cerro Verde, heading away from the nasty ugly graffiti’d concrete plinth. A big bird of prey that had been on a lower branch of the pine tree shot out in front of me. I had a very brief impression of a grey and orange-brown, and then it was gone, back into the trees below, even as my friends gave a shout of surprise. “What was it?” they all cried. “Err…” The territory – old well established coniferous woodland bordered by areas of scrub, suggests Goshawk. The rufous coloration hints at Sparrowhawk. Juv Goshawks can be russet, though… and the height of the peak – 1,330m, not so far off Ben Nevis – perhaps suggest … Oh, damn it, I didn’t know.  I think I said “Goshawk!” firmly on the grounds that it was the most pleasing being the more rarely seen. Case closed!


Falcons are generally smaller than hawks, or less bulky at least, with tapered wings for speed. These birds kill with their beaks and are fast and agile. They include the fastest bird – the peregrine falcon, which can reach 60 mph in level flight and an astounding 200 mph in ideal conditions, in its stoop!

I have seen Peregrine’s in Malaga, though only occasionally. But a pair were nesting on Atalaya some years ago: I spent 40 minutes early one morning on the silk route watching them flying out around Gávilan and was entranced. The profile is really recognisable – they fly like a bolt hurled from the blue.

Sparrowhawks in flight can be confused with Kestrels, although Kestrels are smaller. The outline is different though – the sparrowhawk has the shorter, broader wings of the hawks. The head looks small. The Kestrel will also fan its tail out and it is the only bird I know of that hovers with beating wings, where the Sparrowhawk in the open sticks with flap, flap, flap – glide.

Common Kestrel, Andreas Treptre, www.photo-nature.de
Lesser kestrel feeding chicks, By Вых Пыхманн – Own work

Common Kestrel thinks it owns the road between Sayalonga and the Cruce de Árchez, staking its claim on the overhead wires and pylons, or sweeping up to hover over the vineyards. I’ve also seen Lesser Kestrels once or twice near Salares and was pleased to see one perched, which made the i.d. (spotless back) easier. Though the binos also helped.

The smallest falcon I have seen here, and that only once, was a Hobby. I was walking from Salares to Sedella and bird came low over the ground, banked abruptly to the right and gained height above the rugged scrubland before it was over the ridge and out of view. Small, elegant, it looked so sharp it could cut you and flew like it had been hurled from a sling-shot. I think I stood open mouthed staring after it dumbly. I know they take insects and dragonflies in flight (there are plenty of both here along the water-courses). But I’ve since read that they are more than capable of pursuing and catching martins, swallows and even swifts in flight. All three are abundant here, and I wonder if the Hobby I saw was was in pursuit.

Hobby, RSPB




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Grass Hopper

Born near the sea on the east side, grew near the sea on the west side; more than 15 years down here in the south, hoping about between the mountains and the Med. Madly in love with the Natural world!

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