Birds of Prey: How to Tell Hawks and Vultures Apart

Straight answer: The main difference between a Hawk and a Vulture is their size and behaviors. Hawks are generally smaller in size as compared to vultures, who tend to be larger. For this reason, vultures also prey on bigger animals.

Hawks and vultures are raptors that belong to the same avian order. However, despite having similar backgrounds, they’re not much alike.

They have many key differences, from their habitat to their appearance. These key differences help tell them apart.

You’ve come to the right place if you’re curious about those differentiating factors. In this article, I’ll explain the differences between a hawk and a vulture and ways to tell them apart. Keep reading to find out which one’s stronger as well.

So let’s get right to it!

What is the difference between a hawk and a vulture?

There are many differences between a hawk and a vulture. Some of these include their size, color, and appearance.

Typically, vultures are quite large. They can also be heavier due to the fact that they’re scavengers and don’t really need to chase down prey. They often circle above a carcass before eating it.

On the other hand, hawks are birds that are smaller and lighter. This is because they must be alert and quick to catch their prey. Their prey is small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or birds.

As vultures don’t really need to fly or flap their wings, they tend to fly with a wobble. This makes it look like the smallest wind can blow them off their course.

While Hawks flap their wings quite often. This helps them pick up speed while hunting.

A notable difference in appearance is that vultures usually have shorter, rounded tails. Whereas hawks have long feathers on their heads as well as tails.

Moreover, they don’t look very similar apart from their bird-like structure. I mean, they’re birds, after all!

Basically, you can tell the difference between these two birds by looking closely at their:

  • Feathers
  • Size
  • Colors
  • Head shape
  • Wing structure

Distinguishing Features: Hawk vs. Vulture

It’s worth noting that some hawk species can have bright colors on them while vultures don’t. Hawk color ranges from light to dark brown, while vultures are black or dark brown. The feathers of a vulture also tend to be shorter and more rounded than the feathers of a hawk.

Additionally, hawks have a narrower head, while vultures have broad heads. The difference between their wing structure is that a hawk’s wings slope downwards at the end because they’re meant to fly. Whereas vulture’s wings stay horizontal, as vultures are scavengers built to glide.

Both hawks and vultures are distinct types of birds that prey. You can easily tell them apart by their appearance. For instance, hawks tend to have long tails and slender bodies.

They also have sharp wings, which are used to catch prey while they’re flying. The wings also help them dive faster.

On the other hand, vultures have a broad set of wings and shorter tails. This helps them soar through the air.

Who is stronger, hawk or vulture?

A hawk can easily win in a fight between a hawk and a vulture. But how is that possible if they’re smaller than vultures?

This is because hawks are more agile and have superior hunting instincts. Therefore, the speed at which they fly helps overcome the raw physical strength of a vulture. A hawk is considered more powerful and likely to win in a fight with a vulture.

While they can escape, they’ll be pretty injured by the large vulture. However, hawks are smart birds, and they avoid unnecessary fights.

Despite being raptors of the same avian order, hawks and vultures have few things in common. While Hawks are avid predators, vultures are natural scavengers that feed on carcasses.

Take a look at this table differentiating between a hawk and a vulture:

Family AccipitridaeCathartidae
SpeciesOver 250Approximately 20
ColorVaries: most are grey or reddish on top and white underneath.
Bills and talons are black. The feet are yellow.
Dark brown or black
CharacteristicsStrong legs
Sharp, strong, and curved beaks
Keen eyesight
Powerful wings
Short and rounded tails
High visual activity
Broad wings
Long and curved beaks (yellow or orange)
Hope this makes it clearer for you!

How do you tell if a bird is a vulture?

There are a few key factors to help identify a vulture. Vultures are generally bigger than other raptors, except for eagles. They also have long fingers at their wingtips and long tails that extend past their toe tips when they’re flying.

It’s a large dark blackbird approximately 60 cm long. It has a short tail, short and broad wings, and a bare blackhead.

Moreover, vultures have been observed to hunch their bodies and tuck in their heads when it’s cold. Whereas in the heat, they open their wings and stretch their necks. Another thing that can help distinguish them is that their wings are slightly raised when flying, making a V shape.

Additionally, their preferred habitat is places of open country. This is because here, they can soar and scout far and wide.

If you see a large bird circling around a carcass, then it’s most probably a vulture! This is a habit of this pure scavenger bird before it feeds on the dead meat of an animal.

A Vulture
This is what a vulture looks like!

What is the difference between an eagle and a hawk?

The most noticeable difference between an eagle and a hawk is their size. Eagles tend to be much larger as compared to hawks. They also have longer wingspans.

Although hawks have a similar appearance, if you look more closely, you’ll notice that the hawks’ wings are generally more rounded. They also have short, broad, rounded tails with a stocky build.

Eagles and Hawks both belong to the family of Accipitridae. This family consists of a variety of species of both eagles and hawks. There are a few characteristics that can help tell the birds apart.

Overall, eagles seem to be much larger and also look heavier. They have straighter wings which are sometimes described as plank-like. Both eagles and hawks tend to fly really high.

They take advantage of the thermals, which helps them soar. Hawks sometimes soar with wings held in a shallow V shape. Whereas eagles soar on flat or slightly raised wings.

Furthermore, hawks can range in color from very light to dark. The most common Colorado hawk species is called the “Red-tailed Hawk”. It’s generally light in color underneath and can be identified by its huge size and characteristic red tail.

There are two eagle species in Colorado:

  1. Bald Eagles: Dark in color and have bright whiteheads and tails.
  2. Golden Eagles: Overall dark but have a golden nape of their necks.

Is hawk and falcon the same?

No, they’re not the same! Falcons are generally smaller birds than hawks. While hawks are larger, they have shorter wings as compared to falcons.

A falcon is a bird of prey that belongs to the genus Falco. there are many species of these raptor birds in the genus Falco.

Their long wings and powerful beaks characterize them. They use these beaks to break the neck of their prey.

Whereas hawks catch and kill their prey using their talons. Hawks generally fly slower and prefer to glide through the air.

Moreover, hawks belong to a broad category of raptors. They have broad wings to help them soar high and long tails. Over 270 species of hawks include the northern harrier, Cooper’s hawk, sparrow hawk, and goshawk.

Tell-Tale Signs: Hawk vs. Falcon

On the other hand, Falcons have slender bodies. Their wings are narrow towards the tips, which are sharply pointed. This allows them to fly faster and helps them dive downwards to grab their prey.

There are approximately 40 species of falcons, including the lanner, merlin, American kestrel, and gyrfalcon. They’re very well known for their speed and have excellent eyesight. Female falcons are generally larger than male ones.

Many factors can help identify between a hawk and a falcon. For instance, hawks have brown cheeks, whereas falcons have white cheeks.

They also have different wing structures. Hawks have wide and rounded wings. Their wingtips look like separated fingers.

While Falcons have long, thin, and tapered wings. The wingtips of a falcon are pointed.

Eagle with yellow beak
An eagle with a yellow beak.

Who is stronger, hawk or falcon?

Hawks are considered to be stronger and more powerful than Falcons. They have their own weaknesses and strengths. Even though falcons are smaller, they’re still faster than hawks.

So, if it’s a speed contest, a falcon could win. It can easily escape a hawk by outflying or attacking it before it can react. On the other hand, in a head-to-head fight, the hawk would probably win because of the sheer strength and power that a hawk has.

But the birds are fairly similar in size. They’ll be evenly matched in a fight. Falcons may have the edge in a speed competition, whereas the Hawk would have the edge in a competition involving strength.

Here’s a video comparing hawks and falcons:

Check it out to learn more about them!

Final Thoughts

  • Hawks and vultures differ in size and behavior. Hawks are smaller and more agile, while vultures are larger and scavengers.
  • Key differences in appearance include feather length, color, head shape, and wing structure.
  • Hawks have pointed feathers and come in various shades of brown. In contrast, vultures are black or very dark brown with rounded feathers.
  • Hawks have narrower heads, while vultures have broader heads.
  • In a fight, hawks will likely win due to their agility and hunting instincts. However, vultures possess more physical strength.
  • Identifying vultures involves considering their size, long fingers at wingtips, and long tails. In addition, they have soaring behavior.
  • Eagles are generally larger than hawks and have plank-like wings.
  • The Falcons are smaller than the Hawks. They have slender bodies and narrow wings, excelling in speed.
  • In a contest, the Hawks could outmatch the Falcons in strength. In comparison, the Falcons are faster and could evade the Hawks easily.

This article clarifies the differences between hawks, vultures, eagles, and falcons.

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