Buzzard vs. Vulture: What’s the Difference?

Buzzard vs vulture

Generally speaking, the differences between a buzzard and a vulture can be confusing to people new to birdwatching. After all, these birds of prey are similar in build and behavior. Yet, note that they are not the same species.

Buzzards are often smaller and have broader wings and shorter tails, typically found in Europe and Asia. They primarily hunt live prey like small mammals and birds.

Vultures, on the other hand, are larger birds known for their bald heads and primarily feed on carrion (dead animals). Their strong stomach acids allow them to safely consume decaying meat.

This article will further examine the differences between a vulture and a hawk. You’ll then be able to tell what you’re looking at when you see one flying in the sky. Let’s get started!

Summary of Buzzards vs. Vultures

Buzzard on white background 1Vulture on white background
Genus Buteo, subfamily Buteoninae, family Accipitridae
Genus Aegypius, order Accipitriformes, families Accipitridae and Cathartidae
Europe, Africa, and Asia
North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia
16–28 in (40.6–71.1 cm)
23–55 in (58.4–139.7 cm)
0.94–3 lbs (0.4–1.7 kg)
2.6–33 lbs (1.2–15 kg)
Fully-feathered with smaller bodies, shorter wings, and larger feet
Bald with larger bodies, longer wings, and smaller feet
Flight Speed:
Up to 28 mph
Flight Speed:
15–30 mph
Solitary, territorial, intelligent, and quiet
Active, sociable, opportunistic, and wary
Other birds, rodents, reptiles, small mammals, insects, worms, and frogs
Dead animal remains, sick newborn animals, eggs, rotten fruits, plant-based foods, and reptiles
12–25 years
16–35 years
Conservation Status:
Among its kind:
Conservation Status:
Among its kind: 
8–Critically Endangered

Key Differences Between Buzzard and Vulture

Group of vultures in the wild

Buzzards and vultures are two of the most common types of raptors to be found in the wild. While they may look alike, there are some key differences between them that you should know.

1. Vulture and Buzzard Classification

Despite common misconceptions, buzzards are not the same as vultures. Buzzards belong to the genus Buteo, within the subfamily Buteoninae. But like vultures, they are members of the family Accipitridae.

Vultures, on the other hand, fall under the genus Aegypius. They are part of the order Accipitriformes, which includes other birds of prey like ospreys and eagles.

Furthermore, these birds are split into families: Accipitridae for those in the Old World and Cathartidae for the New World species.

Fun Fact: In the United States, the terms “vulture” and “buzzard” are mistakenly used for the same birds. Locals often refer to Turkey Vultures as buzzards due to a historical mix-up by early European settlers.

2. Habitat and Range

Buzzards boast a wide range. They span across Europe, Russia, Africa, and Asia. Further, these adaptable birds aren’t picky about where they live as long as the area supports their hunting lifestyle.

To be specific, they thrive in diverse habitats, from woodlands and scrubs to marsh bogs and farmlands. They are even common in urban areas that are bustling with people.

Meanwhile, Old World vultures share some of the buzzards’ range. They can also be found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. However, it should be noted that New World vultures have staked their claim in the Americas.

In terms of habitat, these raptors tend to favor wide-open spaces. They typically reside in savannahs, deserts, plains, and wooded areas, as well as in mountain foothills and other open regions.

3. Physical Characteristics

Buzzards are characterized by their fully-feathered bodies, which are relatively smaller in size. They typically stand between 16 and 28 inches tall and weigh from 0.94 to 3 pounds.

Furthermore, their wingspan is shorter, ranging from 4 to 5 feet. These birds are also noted for their wide wings and yellow-colored feet. Additionally, buzzards have larger eyes compared to vultures.

Here is a photo of a Common Buzzard, which you can use as a reference:

Common Buzzard up close

Meanwhile, the following is an image of a vulture:

Vulture up close in the wild

Vultures, on the other hand, possess larger bodies with bald heads. They are taller, with heights ranging from 23 to 55 inches, and heavier, weighing between 2.6 and 33 pounds.

Their wingspan is also larger, with the average being 6 to 7 feet. Plus, they are further distinguished by their round tails, small eyes, and naked necks.

Pro Tip: To tell buzzards and vultures apart in terms of appearance, pay attention to their colors. Buzzards often have a light brown hue, while vultures are typically dark brown or black.

4. Flight Speed

While not the fastest birds in the sky, buzzards can reach up to 28 miles per hour.

Yet, note that their flying technique is distinctive — they prefer to soar for extended periods, holding their wings in a wide “V” shape. This method allows them to glide effortlessly without flapping their wings frequently.

On the other hand, vultures are a bit faster, with speeds ranging from 15 to 30 miles per hour. Interestingly, they often engage in a flying technique called “contorted soaring.”

This involves riding the upward winds that arise when air currents collide with obstacles, including buildings, treetops, and other high points.

Fun Fact: Vultures are not only fast flyers but also high-flying creatures. Specifically, the Rüppell’s Vulture holds the record for the highest-flying avian in the world, reaching heights of 37,100 feet.

5. Behavior and Hunting Techniques

Buzzards are typically solitary creatures. They value their territory and display quiet intelligence. They are not often seen with others of their kind, preferring the isolation that allows them to hunt effectively.

When it comes to capturing prey, these birds are active hunters. They rely on their keen vision and speed to catch live animals, which makes them skilled predators in their habitats.

Conversely, vultures are more sociable and opportunistic, often found in groups. Their typical behavior is cautious, yet they’re active in their search for food, albeit in a different manner than buzzards.

In particular, vultures don’t hunt; they scavenge. They prefer eating dead animals, using their sharp eyesight to spot carcasses from high in the sky, and then descending in groups to feed.

6. Diet and Prey

Buzzards have a diverse diet, feeding on various prey, including other birds, rodents, reptiles, small mammals, insects, worms, frogs, and sometimes dead animals.

In contrast, vultures primarily consume carrion, which is the remains of deceased creatures. They also eat sick newborn animals, eggs, rotten fruits, plant-based foods, and occasionally reptiles.

This scavenging behavior plays a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping to clean up dead animal matter.

I often observe vultures’ eating behaviors whenever I hike near our family’s resthouse in the countryside. A common sight would be about a group of twenty of these raptors circling a meadow in the distance. 

They can often be observed swiftly plunging and then feeding on something. Through my birdwatching binoculars, I will usually identify either a deer or fox carcass satisfying these vultures’ diets.

7. Lifespan

Buzzards have a relatively modest lifespan, which often ranges from 12 to 25 years. How long they live depends on various factors like habitat conditions and dangers posed by humans.

In comparison, vultures usually enjoy a longer life, with some species reaching between 16 and 35 years.

This extended lifespan allows them to play their crucial function in the environment for many years, provided they survive the challenges of their habitats.

Fun Fact: A Turkey Vulture named Lord Richard reportedly lived past the typical vulture lifespan and is now in its 40s.

8. Conservation Status

Buzzard populations are generally stable, with no immediate worries about their numbers.

However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) does list three buzzard species as “Vulnerable” and two, specifically the Mountain Buzzard and Forest Buzzard, as “Near-Threatened.”

On the flip side, vultures are facing a rapid decline in population. Within their ranks, two species are listed as “Near-Threatened,” another two as “Endangered,” and a worrying eight are classified as “Critically Endangered,” including the Hooded Vulture and Rüppell’s Vulture.

How to Tell Them Apart

Two buzzards perched on a tree branch

To distinguish between a buzzard and a vulture, observe their size and color: buzzards are smaller with lighter brown feathers, while vultures are larger and typically darker.

In addition, notice their heads. Buzzards normally have feathered heads, whereas vultures have distinct bald heads.

Watch their flight patterns for clues, too. Buzzards glide with wings in a “V” shape and rarely flap, while vultures use thermal currents to soar and have long, steady wing beats.

Finally, consider their behavior and habitat. Buzzards are solitary and often found near woodlands and cities, hunting live prey.

In contrast, vultures are more social, seen in open areas like savannahs and plains, and they scavenge rather than hunt.

Frequently Asked Questions

Buzzard side view

Are Vultures and Buzzards Related?

Buzzards and vultures are not closely related. Buzzards are part of the Buteo genus, which has a distinct classification separate from that of vultures.

Moreover, it has been noted that Old World vultures are more closely related to hawks, and New World vultures are to storks. On the other hand, buzzards are more similar to eagles.

Are There Buzzards in the United States?

There are no native buzzards in the United States; they are only found in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Note, however, that in some regions of America, the term “buzzard” is commonly but incorrectly used to describe vultures.

Are Buzzards Good to Have Around?

Buzzards are beneficial to have around because they play a crucial role in disposing of dead animals and controlling the spread of diseases, much like vultures.

So which one do you prefer, vultures or buzzards? Let us know in the comments below! If you have any questions about the differences between vultures and buzzards, feel free to share them with us, too.


florida boy December 4, 2023 - 4:00 am

Near Ft. McCoy, FL, we see vultures sharing roadkill with bald eagles. I had a bald eagle cross the road in front of my car with a small possum carcass in its claws, about 10 feet above my lane.

cropped Kimberly Hernandez from Bird Helpful.jpg
Kimberly Hernandez December 5, 2023 - 6:42 pm

Thanks for sharing! It’s fascinating to see different birds like vultures and bald eagles sharing the same space and even roadkill.


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