Buzzard vs Hawk: Key Differences Between These Birds

When discussing birds of prey, two species that often come to mind are buzzards and hawks. Both of these incredible creatures belong to the Accipitridae family, but there are several differences between them. As a bird enthusiast, it’s important to understand the distinctions between these two raptors to appreciate their unique characteristics and roles in the ecosystem.

Buzzards, specifically buteos, are medium to large-sized birds of prey with broad wings that enable them to glide seamlessly in open country landscapes in search of prey. Hawks, on the other hand, are widespread and come in various sizes. They possess short rounded wings and long tail feathers that allow them to chase their prey through forests with great agility. Both species offer fascinating insights into the world of birds of prey, with different habitats, diets, and behaviors.

Key Takeaways:

  • Buzzards and hawks both belong to the Accipitridae family, but have distinct physical characteristics.
  • Habitat preferences differ, with buzzards favoring open country and hawks thriving in forested areas.
  • The unique behaviors, diets, and nesting practices of these birds of prey reveal their individual roles in the ecosystem.

Buzzard vs Hawk

When comparing buzzards and hawks, a few key physical differences can be observed. Both birds belong to the Accipitridae family, which includes eagles and other birds of prey, but they have distinct appearances that set them apart.

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Buzzards generally have a more robust build, with a rounded head and a short, broad tail. When gliding, a buzzard’s wings form a distinctive ‘V’ shape, which is not found in hawks1. In Europe and Asia, the term “buzzard” refers to a specific type of hawk, belonging to the genus Buteo2. Examples include the common buzzard, the long-legged buzzard, and the upland buzzard.

On the other hand, hawks have a slimmer, more streamlined appearance, with long, slender tails and narrower wings. They can be found in various species across North America, Europe, Australia, and Africa3. Examples of hawk species are the red-tailed hawk, sharp-shinned hawk, and the sparrowhawk4. Hawks are known for their distinct size variations from species to species, while overall maintaining a consistent sleek appearance.

Eyes and Talons

One of the most striking features of both buzzards and hawks is their keen eyesight, which allows them to spot prey from great distances. Their sharp talons are another characteristic shared by both birds, serving as their primary tool for capturing prey like snakes, mammals, and smaller birds5.


Regarding size, buzzards typically have a broader wingspan compared to hawks of the same weight6. For example, a rough-legged buzzard can have a wingspan of up to 1.4 meters, while a similarly sized red-tailed hawk would have a wingspan of up to 1.2 meters7. The ferruginous hawk, also known as the red-tailed buzzard, is an exception, as it can have a wingspan comparable to a buzzard’s8.

Overall, both buzzards and hawks are powerful and agile raptors, but they can be distinguished by their physical appearances, size, wingspan, and the regions they are commonly found in. Keep in mind that these distinctions may vary between individual species within each group.

Unique Behavioral Differences

When examining birds of prey, you may notice some unique behavioral differences among vultures, hawks, and buzzards. These distinctions are essential for understanding their roles in their ecosystems and how they have adapted to their surroundings.

Vultures, for instance, mainly act as scavengers, feasting on carrion and cleaning up after other predators. They play a crucial role in keeping the environment clean and healthy. North and South American black vultures often fly in flocks and search for food together. You can easily identify them by their bald heads and distinctive colors. Unlike vultures, hawks excel in hunting. They are usually solitary predators that skillfully swoop down to capture small mammals, rabbits, squirrels, and snakes. Hawks have a large variety in their hunting techniques, which is evident in the diverse species such as the goshawk and the sparrow hawk.

Buzzards, belonging to the Buteo genus, share some traits with hawks and eagles. They are part of the Old World family, including the European honey-buzzard and forest buzzard. Like hawks, buzzards rely on hunting live prey. However, their hunting strategies differ, as they use their broad wings to glide effortlessly while scanning for prey. This method conserves their energy and allows for a more efficient hunting process.

These birds of prey have adapted not only to various habitats but also to specific regions. While buzzards are primarily found in Old World territories like Europe and Asia, hawks can be spotted thriving in both forests and cities across North and South America. Some hawks are even migratory, traveling vast distances based on season and prey availability.

Falconry, the ancient art of training birds of prey for hunting, often involves the use of hawks and falcons. The falcon, being a fast and agile hunter, has been valued as a partner to the falconer for centuries. Buzzards, though not as commonly involved in falconry, have still been used by some skilled falconers, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of these remarkable birds.

In summary, while many similarities between hawks, buzzards, and vultures exist, each bird of prey has its unique behaviors and adaptations. By understanding these differences, ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike can appreciate the diversity and complexity of these majestic creatures.

Habitat Differences

When it comes to habitat differences between buzzards and hawks, there are several factors to consider. Buzzards, which belong to the Buteo genus, are birds of prey commonly found in Europe and Asia. In contrast, hawks are more prevalent in North and South America.

Buzzards have a preference for upland areas, forests, and open countryside. They can be found in various types of habitats, including the European honey-buzzard, which primarily resides in dense forests. The lizard buzzard and forest buzzard favor wooded habitats as well, while the long-legged buzzard can often be found in more open, arid regions. None of these species are native to Antarctica.

On the other hand, hawks can be found in diverse environments, ranging from deserts to forests, all across North America. They adapt to a wide variety of habitats, including cities, where they may nest on tall buildings. South American hawks are similarly versatile, adapting to regional climates and terrains.

The feeding habits of these birds of prey offer another indicator of habitat differences. Buzzards generally feed on small mammals, such as rabbits, frogs, and lizards. In the UK, the rough-legged buzzard migrates from northern Europe to the British uplands during winter, seeking out a food-rich environment. Conversely, hawks have a broader diet, preying on small mammals, birds, and even carrion in some cases. The sparrowhawk, for instance, subsists mainly on smaller bird species.

In conclusion, while there are overlaps in the preferred habitats of buzzards and hawks, they exhibit distinct geographic distribution patterns. Furthermore, their feeding habits can also provide insight into the types of environments they may favor. Overall, the primary differences between these majestic birds of prey are dictated by the regions in which they reside and their specific adaptive capabilities to their surroundings.

Songs and Calls

As you explore the world of birds of prey, it’s essential to understand the differences in their songs and calls, which can help in identifying these majestic creatures. In this section, we will discuss some characteristics of buzzard and hawk calls, as well as touch upon other raptors like eagles and falcons.

Both buzzards and hawks belong to the Accipitridae family, but they have distinct vocalizations. Buzzards, being part of the subfamily Buteoninae, generally have a mewing-like sound. For example, the common buzzard emits a cat-like “mew” which can be heard over long distances.

On the other hand, hawks have a variety of calls, from sharp shrills to high-pitched screams. One well-known raptor in North America, the osprey, has a unique call. It’s not considered a true hawk but belongs to the same family. Its call consists of a series of sharp, whistled “cheep” or “chirp” sounds, allowing them to communicate effectively over water.

Eagles, those large and powerful birds of prey, possess a range of vocalizations. The iconic bald eagle, for example, produces a high-pitched, shrill call or whistle, sometimes described as “kleek-kik-ik-ik” or “kak kak kak” sound.

Falcon calls, on the other hand, tend to be more repetitive and rapid. Peregrine falcons, known for their incredible speed, usually emit a rapid “kek-kek-kek” sound, especially when agitated or defending their territory.

Exploring the diverse world of birds of prey and their unique songs and calls can be both fascinating and educational. By learning these differences, you can enhance your birdwatching experience and further appreciate the incredible diversity of these stunning creatures.

Diet and Feeding Differences

When it comes to their diet, both buzzards and hawks are known for being carnivorous. However, there are some differences in their feeding habits and preferred prey.

Buzzards are opportunistic feeders, which means that they will eat a variety of animals depending on what is available. Generally, their diet consists of rodents, small mammals, and birds. However, unlike hawks, they are also known to feed on carrion, just like turkey vultures and other scavengers. This allows them to be more flexible in their diet, taking advantage of any food source they can find.

On the other hand, hawks are skilled hunters, relying on their agility and speed to capture insects, crustaceans, birds, reptiles, and small mammals. A notable difference in their hunting technique is that they use their talons to grab their prey, then tear them apart with their beak. Their diet is highly dependent on the biological diversity of their surroundings.

Some species of hawks, such as the sparrowhawk or sparrow hawk, are especially skilled at hunting small birds. They can catch their prey mid-flight, demonstrating remarkable aerial agility. Besides birds, their diet can also include frogs, lizards, squirrels, and snakes.

In contrast, some buzzards are more inclined to hunt prey on the ground, such as rabbits, rodents, and even chickens. Their broad wings help them soar high above the ground, scanning for potential prey. Once they spot a target, they dive down with incredible accuracy, using their sharp talons to snatch their meal.

Despite their different feeding habits, both buzzards and hawks play essential roles in their ecosystems by helping control populations of smaller animals. As top predators, they help maintain the delicate balance within their habitats. So, while their diets may differ, both of these incredible raptors share a significant role in the world of birds of prey.


When discussing the taxonomy of both hawks and buzzards, it’s essential to understand their classification within the bird kingdom. Belonging to the Accipitridae family, the terms “hawk” and “buzzard” are often used interchangeably. Although they share similarities, some differences set them apart.

In the Old World, specifically in Europe and Asia, the term “buzzard” is commonly used to describe birds of prey belonging to the Buteo genus. These medium to large-sized birds are characterized by their broad wings, robust bodies, and short tails. A well-known species in this genus is the common buzzard (Buteo buteo).

However, in the New World, they are generally referred to as “hawks.” Hawks are part of the larger Accipitridae family, which includes different species of eagles, kites, and other raptors.

Ornithologists, bird experts, often have distinct scientific names for these birds, which allow them to differentiate between specific taxa. The genus Buteo is a key identifier for buzzards in the Old World. Still, it’s good to remember that not all hawks are buteos, as there are other subfamilies within the Accipitridae family. Some buteo species you may come across include:

  • European honey-buzzard (Pernis apivorus)
  • Lizard buzzard (Kaupifalco monogrammicus)
  • Forest buzzard (Buteo oreophilus)
  • Long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus)
  • Upland buzzard (Buteo hemilasius)
  • Himalayan buzzard (Buteo refectus)

While trying to distinguish between hawks and buzzards, it’s essential to consider the context and location. On the other hand, understanding the taxonomy of these birds can provide a clearer insight into their similarities and differences within the Accipitridae family.

Nesting and Breeding Differences

When comparing buzzards and hawks, you’ll notice several differences in their nesting and breeding behaviors. These birds of prey exhibit unique characteristics, which help you to distinguish one from another.

Buzzards, belonging to the subfamily Buteoninae, typically build their nests in mature trees using large sticks. They have a strong territorial behavior and fiercely defend their territory throughout the year. In the wild, the average lifespan of buzzards is 12 years, and they start breeding at around three years old. The oldest recorded buzzard lived to be 30 years and 5 months old.

On the other hand, hawks, like the Rough-legged Hawk, show different nesting habits. Female hawks usually incubate their eggs for about 31 days, although in some cases, the male might briefly take over incubation duties. Generally, hawks lay a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs, but this number can vary depending on the availability of food, particularly small mammals such as rodents. Like buzzards, hawks also possess an aggressive territorial instinct.

When it comes to hunting and feeding, buzzards and hawks have distinct techniques. Buzzards prefer to hunt for their prey, like rabbits and other small mammals, from a perch in trees. They also use their large wings, rounded tails, short necks, and sharp hooked beak to swoop down and catch their meals. In addition to mammals, buzzards may also prey on other birds, such as falcons, eagles, and turkey vultures.

Hawks are more versatile hunters who adapt well to various environments. They’ll use their powerful feet and sharp talons to catch prey not only on land but also in the air. Raptors like the sparrowhawk and red-tail hawk have a wider range of prey, including mammals like rabbits, birds like chickens, and even reptiles like snakes.

In conclusion, understanding the nesting and breeding differences between buzzards and hawks can help you identify these birds of prey more accurately. By observing their hunting techniques, as well as their preferred nesting locations and habits, you can appreciate the diversity and unique behaviors these fascinating creatures exhibit.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main physical differences between a buzzard and a hawk?

Buzzards and hawks are both part of the Accipitridae family, but they have some differences in physical appearance. Buzzards are classified in the subfamily Buteoninae and are characterized by large wings, rounded tails, short necks, and sharp hooked beaks. Hawks, on the other hand, cover a broader range of species and may have more varied appearances. However, you can generally recognize a hawk by its more streamlined body shape and longer, narrower wings compared to a buzzard.

How do the hunting strategies of buzzards and hawks differ?

Buzzards and hawks employ different hunting strategies. Buzzards usually soar high in the sky and use their keen eyesight to spot prey below. Once they locate their target, they dive down and catch it with their powerful talons. Hawks, particularly species in the genus Accipiter, are more agile and rely on a combination of stealth and speed. They often ambush their prey by darting out from a concealed perch, using their agility and precision to capture smaller animals, such as birds and rodents.

In which habitats are buzzards and hawks commonly found?

Buzzards and hawks can be found in a wide variety of habitats. You can typically find buzzards in open spaces, such as grasslands, meadows, and farmland, where they can easily spot prey from the sky. Hawks, depending on their species, may be found in a broader range of environments, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and even urban areas.

What are the typical flight patterns of a buzzard compared to a hawk?

The flight patterns of buzzards and hawks can be distinct. Buzzards, with their large wings and broad tails, are known for their ability to soar high in the sky, using thermals to maintain altitude without much effort. They frequently circle upwards on these currents, allowing them to quickly cover large areas in search of prey. Hawks, especially those in the genus Accipiter, are more agile fliers, known for their quick, short bursts of speed and maneuverability, which are essential for hunting in more densely populated environments, such as forests or urban areas.

Is there a difference in the size and wingspan of buzzards and hawks?

Yes, there can be differences in size and wingspan between buzzards and hawks. Buzzards generally have a larger wingspan and bulkier body, which allows them to comfortably soar on air currents for extended periods. Hawks, in contrast, are often slimmer and have more streamlined wings, which enable their agile flight maneuvers necessary for their preferred hunting methods. However, it is essential to note that these differences can vary among different hawk species.

Do buzzards and hawks have similar or distinct behaviors?

While buzzards and hawks are both birds of prey, their behaviors can be quite distinct, especially when it comes to hunting strategies, as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, there are some similarities in their behaviors, such as using their powerful talons for capturing prey, being territorial during the breeding season, and using similar nesting habits. They also exhibit a strong sense of monogamy, often mating with the same partner for many years. Despite these commonalities, it is crucial to remember that individual behaviors may vary greatly depending on the specific species of buzzard or hawk.



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