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Vulture Vs Hawk – The Ultimate Comparison!

With more and more people getting interested in falconry and bird of prey, we have noticed a spike in the number of questions that we see people asking about the various popular birds of prey and how they compare to other birds out there.

One of the more popular birds that tends to fascinate people is the hawk and we have noticed a number of people reaching out and asking for a vulture vs hawk comparison article recently so we have decided to publish this dedicated article going over the more popular things we see people asking about relating to vultures and hawks.

Now, vultures are a strange match to compare to a hawk as vultures are classed as raptors but they are not classed as birds of prey.

This is due to vultures preferring to scavenge and search for carrion and usually preferring that carrion to have been dead for two to four days rather than it be fresh.

The hawk on the other hand is your more traditional bird of prey that will see other animals as prey and attack them to try and make a meal of them.

That said though, due to so many people asking for a comparison between vultures and hawks, we have decided to publish this dedicated article going over the subject as best we can.

We have broken the article down to a few key sections and you are able to easily navigate them via our table of contents below if you only want specific information.

What’s The Difference Between A Vulture And A Hawk?

There are a wide range of differences between a vulture and a hawk ranging from the obvious difference in their appearance with the vulture being much larger than most hawks as well as having a much longer neck.

The way that a vulture and a hawk search for food is totally different too with hawks also being more versatile in the habitat that they are able to thrive in while vultures are pretty restricted.

Although not obvious to look at them, the digestive systems of the hawk and the vulture are also totally different to each other.

The vulture has an optimized digestive system for meat that is already starting to decay allowing it to consume meats that would cause health problems with the hawk. The hawk on the other hand has a digestive system that is optimized to quickly digest fresh meat.

Both the vulture and hawk have excellent eyesight but both birds have specialist vision for what they require. The hawk is able to detect moving prey and quickly judge its speed and distance whereas the vulture is able to scan wide areas quickly with ease to look for carrion.

Vulture Vs Hawk Appearance

The vulture and hawk both look totally different to each other with the vulture being much larger than the majority of hawk species.

The wingspan of the vulture also tends to be much larger than the hawk too with the vulture also having a long neck with a larger and longer beak.

With the most obvious difference between a vulture and a hawk being their appearance, we want to quickly touch on why the two birds appear so different to each other.

The vulture is much larger in size with a huge wing span so it is able to hover around for long periods of time in search of carrion without wasting much energy with a neck designed to allow it to easily get inside of dead much larger animals that a vulture would never be able to kill by itself to pull food out.

The hawk is much smaller and designed to be able to dive-bomb on any prey that it sees with rapid speed to get a quick kill on very small animals that are easy for the hawk to take out.

The hawks eyes are more forward-facing than the vultures too so the hawk is better at detecting speed and distance of prey where as the vulture can see a much wider field of view to search vast areas for carrion.

Vulture Vs Hawk Diets

The diets of vultures and hawks are totally different to each other and although both birds consume meat as their primary food source, vultures have evolved to digest meat that has already started to rot.

Hawks on the other hand have evolved to consume fresh meat and convert the new calories into energy as quickly and easily as possible ready to start hunting again.

Vultures are unique in this regard though as there very few animals have been able to evolve to eat what is essentially rotting meat without having digestive problems.

On the flipside of this though, the vulture’s digestive system has evolved to a stage where it can struggle to get energy from fresh meat and due to vultures being scavengers, if they do find fresh carrion and are hungry they are able to eat it but much of the nutrients will not be absorbed.

The diet of both birds is where the hawk has the obvious advantage due to it actually being a bird of prey rather than a scavenger.

Provided there are small animals around the hawk can usually secure food for itself and then quickly process the majority of the energy without ever having to scavenge for food although hawks have been known to take advantage of an easy meal if they find carrion.

Vulture Vs Hawk Hunting

Hawks hunt as any other bird of prey would using their excellent vision to pinpoint potential prey, judge the distance of the prey and the speed that it is moving and then decide if it wants to attack.

The vulture on the other hand doesn’t hunt in the traditional way of looking for live prey to take down, it hunts by scanning its line of sight for carrion that it is then able to feed on.

Due to the differences in hunting between the vulture and the hawk, their social habits are also different. The hawk tends to be a solitary, independent bird that will go off and hunt alone where as the vulture tends to have a collective unit that it will scavenge in.

This offers both birds an advantage for their own hunting method as the hawk is able to claim its prey for itself without having to share its meal.

The vulture on the other hand has a number of other vultures with it scanning for carrion and if there are other, larger animals already feeding on the carrion then the more vultures available the higher the chance of the vultures scaring the other animals off and getting a meal.

Vulture Vs Hawk Habitats

The hawk is a much more versatile bird when it comes to the habitat that it is able to live in with hawks being widespread in almost all conditions across the globe.

The vulture tends to need wide open spaces if possible so it is able to see carrion and find meals with it also needing larger animals for its carrion due to the number of calories it requires restricting where vultures are able to live massively.

Although most people initially think that vultures only live in parts of Africa, there are vulture species that live in Asia, The Americas, and Europe too.

The do tend to need wide open spaces though and rarely do well in wooded areas or urban locations due to their inability to hunt effectively and usually requiring carrion as their primary food source.

Hawks on the other hand have managed to spread world wide with various hawk species being found on all continents.

Rough-legged hawks have even evolved to be able to thrive in the artic tundra for months at a time with smaller hawks usually preferring warmer climates in areas where there is plenty of prey.


That brings our vulture vs hawk comparison article to a close and we hope that you have found it helpful. Although the vulture and the hawk are both classed as raptors, they are very different and have a number of advantages and disadvantages over each other. The hawk is an actual bird of prey that searches for prey to hunt where as the vulture goes off to scavenge food from left over carrion that has been left by other predators.