What is the difference between a vulture and buzzard?

 What is the difference between a vulture and buzzard?

If you’re struggling to distinguish between a vulture and buzzard and are curious about their differences, this article is guaranteed to provide the answers you seek.

There is a common misconception among many people that both buzzards and vultures are the same. There is no doubt that both birds are associated with scavenging and death.

However, there are distinct differences between vultures and buzzards from their appearance to their habits, size, and food choices.

This blog post will explore the differences between buzzards and vultures. We will also explore their similarities as well as their dietary preferences and habitats. Let’s get started!

Differences Between Vulture and Buzzard

The key distinction between vultures and buzzards lies in several key features.

Daily/Origin; buzzards belong to the Accipitridae family, which includes hawks and eagles, whereas vultures belong to the Cathartidae family, a group solely dedicated to scavenging.

Appearance;  Vultures have distinct featherless heads, which sets them apart from buzzards which typically have fully-feathered heads.

Size; buzzards are generally smaller than vultures, usually measuring around three to five feet long.

Elevations; vultures tend to reside at lower elevations compared to buzzards, whereas buzzards can be found in a wider range of altitudes across different regions.

Hunting; various species of vultures primarily feed on carrion, while numerous types of buzzards actively hunt for their prey.

Numerous subtle distinctions distinguish vultures from buzzards, making these creatures unique from each other. Let’s look into the specific differences between a vulture and a buzzard.

What Is a Vulture?

Vultures, scavenging birds belonging to the Accipitridae family, are fascinating creatures that often get a bad rap. There are two types of Vulture mainly Old Vulture and New World Vultures.

Old World vultures can be spotted in Africa, Asia, and Europe while New World vultures dominate North and South America.

What Is a Buzzard?

Buzzard looking at prey

Buzzards are widely distributed birds of prey that can be found in various parts of the world. These medium-sized creatures possess broad wings and long tails and are commonly colored brown or black. Their diet predominantly consists of small mammals, birds, and reptiles; however, they also scavenge on carrion when necessary. While buzzards typically prefer to fly solo, they may occasionally assemble in small flocks during the winter months.

Similarities Between Buzzards and Vultures

Both these birds are renowned for their fierce scavenging habits and sharp talons, which they use to rip apart carcasses of dead animals.

Additionally, both types of birds can be found across a wide range of habitats around the world – from deserts to grasslands, mountains, forests, and even urban areas.

These two buzzards and vulture scavenger birds have an incredible sense of smell. which allows them to locate potential meals swiftly.

Lastly, these magnificent creatures exhibit impressive aerial skills that enable them to soar high in search of sustenance or suitable nesting locations.

So why is there confusion between the two? 

The confusion between vultures and buzzards has been a long-standing issue for many bird enthusiasts. However, there are distinct differences between these two birds that set them apart.

vultures are generally larger with broader wingspans, while buzzards tend to be smaller and more compact. Their feeding habits differ greatly – vultures mainly scavenge for carrion, whereas buzzards are opportunistic predators that actively hunt small mammals and birds.

Both birds of prey use vocalizations to communicate. Vultures are known for their hauntingly eerie hissing or rasping sounds, while buzzards have a more melodious call that resembles a high-pitched mewing sound or a cat’s meow.

Vultures Can Be Called Buzzards?

vulture on top of a tree trunk

Some people use the term “Buzzard” interchangeably with ‘Vultures” but they have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Both birds belong to the raptor family and share similar characteristics. However, one key difference lies in their wingspans, Vultures typically have larger wingspans compared to buzzards, allowing them to soar effortlessly in the sky.

In the end, Buzzards are more predatory. Unlike vultures who rely solely on scavenging for food.

Regional Differences?

The distinction between buzzards and vultures becomes evident when considering their regional differences.

Buzzards, also known as hawks in some regions, are commonly found in North America and Europe. They possess broad wings with a wingspan of around 40-55 inches.

In contrast, vultures are primarily seen in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. These scavengers have larger bodies and wider wingspans ranging from 63 to 79 inches.

Tip To Identify Between A Vulture And A Buzzard

When it comes to distinguishing between a vulture and a buzzard, size and shape play an essential role. Vultures are usually much smaller compared to buzzards. They have slender wings and a long tail, while buzzards tend to be larger birds with broader wings.

Identifying Buzzards vs. Vultures

Identifying Buzzards vs. Vultures can be a challenging task, but with some careful observation and knowledge of their key characteristics, it becomes much easier to differentiate between these two impressive birds. Such as color, and flight pattern.

  • Buzzards, also known as hawks or eagles in some regions, tend to have a wide range of color variations including brown, white, and even reddish tones on their underparts. whereas Vultures tend to have darker plumage with black or gray feathers.
  • One key difference lies in their stance during flight – buzzards tend to hold their wings in a slight dihedral position, forming a V shape, while vultures often keep their wings held straight out horizontally.

Lastly, behavioral differences mark another area of distinction between these avian species. Buzzards are skilled hunters who actively search for live prey such as small mammals or reptiles using their keen eyesight from soaring heights above ground level. They also hunt alone or in pairs rather than in large groups as vultures do during migratory periods.

Physical Differences in Vultures and Buzzards

What is the difference between vulture and buzzard

Vultures and buzzards are often confused with one another due to their similar appearance, but some key physical differences set them apart.

  • One noticeable distinction is their size. Vultures tend to be larger than buzzards, with wingspans that can reach up to ten feet in some species. Buzzards, on the other hand, typically have smaller wingspans of around four to five feet.
  • Another difference lies in their feeding habits. While most vultures predominantly feast on carrion, buzzards have a broader diet that includes live prey as well.
  • Additionally, Vultures, with their bald heads and large beaks that resemble a skull, evoke an air of mystery and death. On the other hand, buzzards sport feathered heads with hooked bills, resembling those of majestic eagles.

Let’s explore the contrasting physical appearances and habits of vultures and buzzards.

Senses of Vultures and Buzzards

Vultures and buzzards have some fascinating senses that give them an edge in their respective habitats.

1 – Eyesight: Vultures have keen eyesight which enables them to spot carrion from incredible distances.While buzzards have slightly weaker eyesight compared to vultures but make up for it with their excellent sense of smell.

2_Hearing: Vultures rely on their acute hearing to accurately locate their prey, while buzzards are renowned for their exceptional sense of smell compared to other birds.

Vultures and buzzards exhibit distinct sensory abilities that enable their survival in diverse climates and surroundings. Whether they are scavenging on deceased animals or actively searching through vast open spaces, these avian species possess all the essential tools required for their prosperity.

Habitat Differences

Vultures and buzzards are often confused with one another due to their similar appearances and scavenging habits. However, a closer look reveals that these birds also have distinct habitat preferences.

Vultures are commonly found in open habitats such as grasslands and deserts, where they soar high in the sky on thermal currents in search of carrion. On the other hand, buzzards tend to inhabit more varied landscapes including woodlands and forests.

Unlike vultures who rely heavily on their sight while soaring through the skies, buzzards excel at hunting prey from perches or by engaging in low-altitude flights. 

These habitat differences provide valuable insight into the behaviors and survival strategies employed by vultures and buzzards. By adapting to diverse environments over millions of years, these remarkable birds have secured a place within various ecosystems worldwide.

Diet Differences

Vultures and buzzards are often grouped due to their similar appearance and scavenging behavior. However, when it comes to their diet preferences, these two birds of prey differ significantly.

Vultures, known for their bald heads and soaring flight patterns, primarily feed on the flesh of dead animals. Their strong beaks and highly acidic digestive systems allow them to consume decaying carcasses that may prove fatal to other animals.

While Buzzards are opportunistic hunters that actively pursue live prey as well. They also scavenge on carrions, Small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and even young birds form part of their diet.

Despite these divergent eating habits, both vultures and buzzards play crucial roles as nature’s clean-up crew. They prevent the spread of diseases by efficiently disposing of carcasses that would otherwise rot and attract pathogens.

BehaviorOn the other hand, buzzards flap their wings in a distinctive V-shaped pattern, which creates a noticeable up-and-down motion as they traverse the skies.

Vultures and buzzards, despite their similar appearances, exhibit distinct behavioral differences that set them apart.

Vultures, known for their scavenging habits, are highly social creatures that gather in large groups called a wake. While buzzards prefer solitude and are rarely seen congregating with others of their kind.

Furthermore, vultures are widely known for their high level of intelligence and resourcefulness. They exhibit remarkable problem-solving skills by employing tools like rocks to crack open exoskeletons in their relentless pursuit of food. In contrast, buzzards tend to prefer hunting alone and actively steer clear of interactions with other avian species.


Vultures and buzzards are commonly associated with one another due to their similar appearances, but upon closer observation, their movements showcase intriguing differences.

Vultures, with their broad wingspan and soaring ability, effortlessly glide through the sky as they search for food. They have the unique ability to fly for hours without flapping their wings, utilizing thermals to stay aloft.

On the other hand, buzzards have flapped their wings in a distinctive V-shaped pattern, which creates a noticeable up-and-down motion as they traverse the skies.

Overall, this distinctive feature emphasizes the importance of movement in the biology and ecology of vultures and buzzards.

Whether soaring through the air or hovering near the ground, these birds exemplify how adaptive movement strategies have played a crucial role in their long-term survival.


Vulture engage in an unconventional ritual known as the mating flight, where individuals circle each other in a high-altitude dance of courtship. In contrast, buzzards defy convention by actively seeking out life-long monogamous relationships.

Furthermore, vultures exhibit extended breeding periods that span the entirety of spring and summer, whereas buzzards primarily engage in mating rituals during the autumn season, either before or after their migration.

 Another notable distinction lies in the mate selection process: female vultures base their choice on breeding accomplishments and physical attractiveness, while male buzzards aggressively defend their territories to allure potential mates. 

Additionally, vulture courtship customs involve intricate displays and vocalizations from both partners, whereas buzzard pairs simply groom each other as part of their reproductive routine. 

These contrasting strategies exemplify the unique evolutionary paths taken by vultures and buzzards to successfully find partners and propagate.

Keen sense of smell and sight

Vultures and buzzards, often associated with death and decay, possess a keen sense of smell and sight that is truly astonishing.

Vultures’ keen sense of smell enables them to locate carrion from great distances, sometimes even up to three miles away.

This remarkable ability allows vultures to quickly find a source of food in vast open spaces or dense forests where vision alone might not suffice. On the other hand, buzzards rely more heavily on their exceptional eyesight to detect food.

By possessing a combination of heightened senses, both vultures and buzzards demonstrate how adaptation shapes survival strategies in the natural world.

Despite these differences between vultures and buzzards, research suggests that both species use a combination of sight and smell when foraging for food. 


Vultures are categorized under the subfamily Aegypiinae, whereas buzzards fall under Buteonine. This difference in subfamilies denotes variations in their classification and behaviors.

One contrasting aspect is their appearance: Vultures have featherless heads and necks, along with strong beaks adapted for tearing into carcasses. While buzzards possess feathered heads with a more curved beak for catching smaller prey like rodents or insects.

Another factor is their feeding habits. Vultures belong to the family Accipitridae, known for their scavenging habits, feeding primarily on carrion. Buzzards fall under the family Buteo, which consists of broad-winged soaring raptors, that hunt live prey as well as consume carrion.

Additionally, vultures typically have wider wingspans compared to buzzards, enabling them to soar effortlessly for extended periods. In contrast, many species of buzzards are considered of least concern or near threatened due to their adaptability in diverse habitats. 

Understanding the classification of vultures and buzzards sheds light on some fascinating aspects of these magnificent birds that often go unnoticed at first glance.

Final Words

Despite their similar appearances, vultures and buzzards possess distinct characteristics that set them apart. By familiarizing yourself with these dissimilarities through this article, you will be able to discern between a vulture and a buzzard when observing them gracefully gliding above.

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