Hawk vs Vulture

Despite being raptors from the same avian Order, hawks and vultures are not much alike.

While hawks are avid predators, vultures are natural scavengers that feed on dead animals.

And so, they differ not only in their physical traits but also in their habits and preferences.

In this article you’re going to discover the following

  • How to tell the difference between a hawk and a vulture? (In Detail) 
  • Do hawks attack vultures?
  • Do hawks eat vultures?
  • Who is more powerful? Hawks or vultures?

So if you want to know everything about hawks and vultures and what the difference is between them – you’re going to love this in depth detailed article

Sound good?

Let’s get started!

How To Tell The Difference Between a Hawk And a Vulture? 

The quickest way is by observing their wing spans and body proportions during their flight. 

While a hawk has straight wings, a vulture makes a distinct V-shape with its broad-square wings.

Also, a vulture is far bulkier and heavier compared to a hawk. 

How much?

Well, an adult vulture is about 1-meter long and 27.5 pounds in weight, with a wingspan of about 3-meters. 

Meanwhile, a hawk is about half a meter long and 2-4 pounds in weight, with a wingspan around 1-2 meters.

Further differences include:

1. Taxonomic Differences

In North America, vultures are often called buzzards.

However, hawks are also called buzzards and are frequently mistaken for small eagles or kites.

But the debate ends with scientific classification as all these raptors share common ancestors, as depicted in the following figure:

Hawk vs Vulture

There exist about 250 species of hawks and 25 of vultures.

However, vultures belong to two different families.

Those from family Accipitridae are termed Old World Vultures, while those from family Cathartidae are called New World Vultures. 

Now you may be wondering..

How Do Old World Vultures Differ From New World Vultures?

The New World Vultures are mainly native to America.

Whilst the Old-World Vultures are endemic to Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Both types of vultures prefer eating carcasses and have similar body statures due to convergent evolution. 

However, old vultures share ancestors with hawks, while new ones are thought to have evolved from cranes.

Old vultures locate prey, primarily through their visual abilities while, new ones smell their targets, even from a 2-km distance.

Besides, new-world vultures have sturdier legs.

2. Differences in Appearance

Hawk Vulture
Size and Shape Smaller and sleeker than vultures. 

Erect posture and Straight silhouette.

Massive and unkempt.

Hunched posture and a distinct V-shaped silhouette.

General Appearance Entire body covered with feathers, ranging from grey to red-brown having white streaks. 

Have dark spots on the neck, breast, or leg regions.

Always seem alert with excellent vision.

Have bald heads and necks, body color ranges black to dark brown.

Having no specific patterns.

Seem ruffled but have an extraordinary sense of smell and sight.

Beak Strong curved black beaks with teeth in the upper mandible called  ‘Tomial teeth’. Yellow to orange-red hooked bills with piercing strength to tear apart all kinds of skins. 
Feet and Talons Muscular and curved, yellow claws with black sharp talons. Yellow to black, long but straight claws, with black sharp talons
Feathers Tough, shiny, and sleek feathers with muscle strength allowing the hawk agility and stamina.

Long feathery tails.

Broad square-shaped feathers, with long finger-like edges. Though, not as streamlined, allow soaring for longer periods.

Short-rounded tails.

Voice Produce strong cries. Either hiss or screech.
Gender Differentiation Males are about 2/3rd of the size of Females. Both genders are almost identical in size.

3. Differences In Habitat Preferences

Hawks favor places with the capacity to hide, while vultures stay in open spaces. 

Hawk Vulture
Ideal Habitat Highlands with tall trees. Areas with little to no cover e.g. savannah, desserts, or grasslands.
Nests Build bulky stick nests on high perches or Rocky cliffs, though sleep in tall tree perches.

Lay eggs in a nest but may not use the same nest again.

Either make weak nests or don’t make nests at all. May sleep on dry perches.

Lay eggs in the ground or steal someone else’s nest.

4. Differences in Behaviors

These include:

Hawk Vulture
Social Behaviors Don’t live in flocks. But may live and hunt with their mates during the breeding season. Live in sort of flocks called a committee, venue, or volt that roosts breeds, and eats together.
Flight patterns fly smoothly in circles but can flap or jump mid-air. Circle for hours but wobble a lot. Though, cannot flap as much. 
Hunting Observe the target during flight or from some trees, jump dive and grab the surprised prey.  Rarely prey, but circle above a carcass to ensure the absence of any predators, before scavenging it. 

Can even smell the dying animals.

Some like Egyptian Vultures hunt for eggs. They break ostrich eggs using stones.

Prey Hunt small birds, rodents, squirrels, and rabbits

Can eat frogs and insects.

But inexperienced or sick hawks may even eat dead animals.

Swallow bones, feathers, and even fur, but regurgitate the undigested food.

Lammergeier and Bearded vultures eat only bones. 

But most vultures eat anything dead, from large birds to mammals such as cows, lambs, and even pigs, etc.

Breeding Patterns  Usually, mate for life, but some take a different mate every few years.

Lay eggs up to thrice a year. 

Courting involves a display of dominance by high-pitched sounds while circling or showing agility.

Normally, mate for life and pick another mate only after the death of a partner.

Lay eggs from March to June.

Courting involves several vultures coming together, hopping in circular movements with wings partially spread.

Eggs Both sexes incubate the eggs. 

A clutch consists of about 1-5 eggs. Eggs are slightly blue to white with brown spots. 

Only females incubate the eggs.

A clutch consists of 1-3 eggs.

Eggs are white to slightly brown, with dark brown markings.

Hatchlings  Hatchlings are coated with white feathers.

4-6 weeks old Fledgling leave the nests.

Parents feed their babies by bringing the kill home.

Hatchlings are white with grey beaks.

10-week-old fledglings leave the nests.

Parents feed their young by regurgitation as they cannot carry carcasses.

5. Other Differences

Hawks Vultures
Digestive System Don’t have an exceptionally corrosive digestive system. Have extremely corrosive acids in their guts. These help them digest rotting materials while resisting pathogens like anthrax, botulism, and cholera. 

Also, vultures don’t become carriers of disease by coming in contact with sick animals.

Urohydrosis Don’t employ such tactics. Only New-world vultures employ urohyrosis, a habit of defecting down the legs to keep the moisture from evaporating and thus, regulating body temperature
Specie Status Hawks are dying because of environmental changes. But only a few species are currently endangered. Vultures, especially in Nepal and India, are now endangered. 

The 80 million vulture population from the 1980s is now merely a few thousand, primarily because of secondary poisoning from a now-banned pesticide “Diclofenac”.

Spiritual Associations Hawks being majestic, represent strength and even spiritual awakening. Vultures are used to symbolize greed and death.

Do Hawks Attack Vultures?

A Hawk is a smart bird and avoids unnecessary fights.

Especially fights that he can potentially lose.

However, lack of resources or danger to offspring may incite a hawk to attack a vulture.

In such a fight, a hawk will dive-bomb on the vulture, trying to tear its spine or wings by employing its talons.

Meanwhile, a vulture will spread its feathers to scare away the hawk.

Though, it will probably use its beak to pierce the hawk’s neck or abdomen.


Do Hawks Eat Vultures?

No animal in its right mind will eat vultures as a staple diet. 

But occasionally hawks do hunt baby vultures to avoid dying from starvation.

Even so, vultures are more of a challenge than sparrows.

So, hawks tend to avoid such encounters. 

However, vultures often steal hawk eggs.

Also, they will eat anything dead, be it a dead hawk or even a dead vulture. 

Who Is More Powerful? Hawk Or Vulture? 

In a fight between an hawk and a vulture, the hawk is sure to win.

However, a hawk is way smaller than a vulture.

But it is also more agile and has superior hunting instincts.

Since speed overcomes raw physical strength, therefore, a hawk is more than likely to win.

But a hawk will not escape such a fight, unscathed.

Conclusion – Hawk Vs Vulture

Compared to the vultures, hawks are smaller but more agile.

Therefore, hawks are considered more powerful.

While both these raptors belong to the same order of Animal Kingdom, they differ a lot.

As vultures prefer eating carcasses while hawks favor fresh hunts. 

Regardless, both birds rarely fight and try to avoid each other.

They are both amazing birds

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Do hawks eat rabbits?

Do Hawks eat rattlesnakes?

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