Hawk vs Vulture

Hawk vs Vulture

Both hawks and vultures are big birds. They can be scary, but they are generally harmless to humans unless provoked. But what is the difference between these two birds?

Both hawks and vultures form the order Accipitriformes. However, they moved to different lines and genera later down the evolution tree. Hawks belong to the Accipitridae family, while vultures belong to Cathartidae.

Hawk vs Vulture Comparison Chart

1. Scientific NameAccipiterCathartes aura
2. SizeTwo feet long with4.7-foot wingspan3.3 feetlong with 8.9 feet wingspan
3. ColorsRich brown, yellow, red-tailed, etc.Brown to black with red head and some are white-backed
4. RangeNorth America, Central America, West Indies, JamaicaAfrica, Asia, Europe, Americas
5. Hunting BehaviorActive predatorMostly eats carrion; some eat fruits
6. Liter SizeOne to five eggsOne to three eggs
7. Pet BehaviorCan be trainedCan be trained
8. AggressionCan be aggressivePretty much harmless
9. Life ExpectancyAbout 20 yearsAbout 25 years
10. DietCarnivoreMostly carnivore; some eat fruits

Hawk Overview

A hawk is typically any bird of prey that belongs to the family Accipitridae. They are native to North America.

The term hawk is also applied to other birds that are not considered true hawks. Some examples of these are kites and buzzards. The term is also sometimes extended to birds like the falcons.

Hawks are not eagles, as eagles are bigger than hawks and have longer wingspans. Hawks, like eagles, hunt their prey from above. They have powerful claws, and they have strong and sharp beaks that can dismember prey.

Vulture Overview

The vulture is a big bird that is the only extant descendant of obligate scavengers. What it means is that their sole feeding strategy is to eat carrion.

In North America, there are three species of what is called North American Vultures, and they have different ways of choosing carrion.

There are Old World vultures and New World ones. The Old-World variants include eagles, kites, and hawks. These types of vultures look for carrion only by sight.

Here are some examples:

  • White-rumped vulture
  • Egyptian vulture
  • Indian vulture
  • Cinereous vulture
  • Bearded vulture
  • White-headed vulture
  • Himalayan vulture
  • Griffon vulture
  • Rüppell’s vulture
  • Cape vulture
  • Hooded vulture
  • Slender-billed vulture
  • Red-headed vulture
  • White-backed vulture
  • Lappet-faced vulture
  • Palm-nut vulture

New World vultures are commonly called condors. They live in the Americas, but they are not closely related to the true vultures. These birds have a special sense of smell, and they can find dead animals even if they are miles high up in the air.

Here is a list:

  • California condor
  • Black vulture
  • Turkey vulture
  • Andean condor
  • Lesser yellow-headed vulture
  • Greater yellow-headed vulture
  • King vulture

Hawk vs Vulture


There is no single way to describe the appearance of a hawk because they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. However, one can tell from the tail if it is a hawk.

A hawk’s tail is short and stubby.Its wings also look like hands when they are spread out. The most popular hawk, the red-tailed one, has a rich brown feather. It also has a streaked belly.

Vultures, however, are easy to spot. They have a hunched-over stance, and they barely have feathers on their necks.

Not all vultures are black, as is often depicted in movies. Some vultures have blue rings around their necks, and some have red beaks.


Hawks often live in deserts and fields. These are open areas where they can easily spot prey. Generally, hawks are adaptable and can live in many types of places. However, there are no hawks or birds of prey in Antarctica.

There are more than 50 species of hawks, and they are pretty much spread out globally. Some occupy huge areas, while some only thrive in small regions.

Vultures live in open countries. They like to nest in tall trees and on cliffs. There are, however, some species that live on the ground.


Both hawks and vultures are not aggressive to humans. The only time a hawk would attempt to fight a human is if the human is too close to its nest.

There was one incident where a hawk attacked a person on the head and another one on the leg. It is a rare occurrence.

Vultures are harmless to humans. While they are commonly referred to as birds of prey, they do not hunt prey at all. They look for carrion, and they eat animals that they did not kill.


Hawks eat small animals. They actively hunt from above, and they fly down and take the animals with their powerful talons.

Here is a list of their most common prey:

  • Snakes
  • Lizards
  • Fish
  • Mice
  • Rabbits
  • Small birds

Vultures do not hunt for food. If they spot a dying animal, they might even wait until it is ready dead before they eat it.

Can a Hawk and a Vulture Mate?

There is no formal conclusion to this question. Many birds in the wild hybridize. Since both the hawk and the vulture come from the same family, maybe it is possible.

However, they do not belong to the same genus. As such, their mating may not produce viable offspring. Generally, the hybridization of birds usually becomes only successful if the two species are from the same genus.

Which is stronger: Hawk vs Vulture?

It is a tad difficult to say as these two birds do not engage in battle. However, it is logical to say that hawks are stronger than vultures.

Vultures fly high, and yet they do not attack prey. Hawks, on the other hand, sweep down from the air to capture prey. This action makes their talons really strong.In the wild, a hawk can even capture a jackrabbit.


Vultures and hawks are different. While many people refer to both as birds of prey, it is only the hawk that actively hunts food. Vultures look for dead animals, called carrion, and eat them. Between the two, the vulture is bigger. However, hawks are more agile and, therefore, more physically fit. Vultures do not hunt, so they did not develop the same agility and strength as hawks did.

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