It can be easy to confuse a falcon (karearea) with a harrier Hawk (kahu). At first glance they can appear similar, due to having a similar shape and colouring – but look a little closer and 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 and are eminently more difficult to spot.

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

When flying the harrier Hawks tend to flap their wings and glide before flapping again, playing on the wind currents. The falcon is much faster, normally flies to a destination, maybe chasing it's next meal and has a constant very rapid wing beat.

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Kārearea NZ Falcon

Size Magpie size
½ size of Harrier
300 – 500 grams
Status Endangered
Description Dark and fast
Black/dark brown above – barred below
Rufus/red “pants”
Speckled chest
Brown eyes
Brown bar on face (like a moustache)
Flying Away Rump is dark coloured
Soaring Very fast wing beats
Wings flat for short time
Flight Characteristics Flies fast – rapid wing beat
Hunting Very fast – stoops
Chases smaller birds
Typical Prey Small birds
Rarely eats carrion
Call Rapid, piercing
Flight Silhoutte Pointed wings
Straight tail
Angled back like an arrow
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Kahu - Harrier Hawk


Black-backed gull size - 1 kg




Generally slow flying
Juveniles are dark brown
Get paler with age
Yellow eyes

Flying Away

Cream rump visible


Wings held in shallow “V” for lengthy periods

Flight Characteristics

Slow flight. Often flap-glide-flap


Searches slowly into wind.
Lands on carrion

Typical Prey

Eats carrion


Generally silent
Plaintive Kee-a

Flight Silhoutte

Fingered wings
Slightly rounded tail
Wide wing span