Buzzard Vs Vulture: Differences Between Scavengers Explained For Kids!

Christian Mba
Oct 19, 2023 By Christian Mba
Originally Published on Oct 30, 2021
Common buzzard on a tree branch.

Buzzards and vultures are two ferocious birds of prey from the class of Aves.

A soaring turkey vulture in the sky above could be easily mistaken for a red-tailed hawk, with similarities in their features being noticeable during flight. However, turkey vultures are known to have longer and more rectangular wings, which they hold above themselves like the letter V.

Hawks might be less stable and steady while flying, but a turkey vulture soars high in a steady motion. In North America and South America, a buzzard is sometimes considered to be closely related to (and thus confused with) a vulture, and a hawk is often confused with a buzzard.

The differences are pretty subtle. So, when someone in the US refers to a buzzard, know that they may mean a turkey vulture and not a true buzzard.

The turkey vulture is a part of the new world vultures family, while a buzzard belongs to the old world vultures and birds of prey (the Accipitridae family), of the Buteo genus. However, in North America, people mix misidentify hawks and buzzard hawks with the Buteo genus.

After reading this comparison between new world vultures and old world vultures, do check out other fun articles like turkey vulture facts and cicada vs locust.

Why are turkey vultures called buzzards?

During early colonial times, the colonists got confused and called large birds soaring high in North America buzzards. Those turkey vultures had similarities to the buzzards flying through European skies.

A slang term commonly used in the US for vultures today is 'buzzard'. However, in the UK, Atlantic, and elsewhere in Europe, buzzard is used as a hawk name, not for vultures.

The European scavengers of 26 hawk species have buzzard in their name. Examples of the hawk species are the European honey buzzard, the common buzzard, and the lizard buzzard. Some hawk species of the Buteo genus are from North America and are simply called hawks.

So, you may be wondering how new world vultures or turkey vultures came to be known as buzzards in North America. The blame can be placed upon British colonists and other settlers from Europe.

Are buzzards dangerous?

The term buzzard is used in different contexts and for different species all around the world.

In most parts of the United States, buzzard is used to refer to hawks. However, in other places in the US, it is used to refer to a vulture.

Buzzards have a darkish-brown upper-body and pale under-body parts with reddish-brown streaks on their bellies. A pale band across the breast region can also be seen in buzzards. Their primary feathers are dark black with a trailing edge pattern and a short and broad grey-brown tail with narrow bars and a terminal band of dark color.

These birds of prey, unlike other birds, don't look for tree branches to perch on or twigs and leaves to make their nests. You can find buzzards' nests in the corners of a cave or cliff or even a rock crevice.

Sometimes, these animals lay eggs in holes in the ground, a hollow tree or thicket. Just like other birds, baby vultures are known as chicks.

Once they start flying, they come to be known as fledglings. Sometimes, a group of buzzards is called a 'wake' even though it is actually referencing vultures.

These seemingly intimidating birds of prey are actually not that aggressive or dangerous. Buzzards are a common, widespread bird-like vulture in the US, living in dry and mountainous regions.

It would be rare for a buzzard to attack you; it will only attack if it gets distressed or concerned about you taking its eggs or coming near its nest. They usually don't have any incentives to attack humans or their pets otherwise.

They also lack in physical attributes that would make them a threat.

Even though they are known to be carnivorous (sometimes omnivorous), they only eat dead animals and not living creatures except for snakes, small birds, and rats that fall under their prey-predator list. They do not hunt larger animals like dogs.

What is the wingspan of a vulture?

Vultures are big birds with broad wings. A variety of wingspans can be seen in various species and subspecies of vultures.

The black vulture has a wingspan in the range of 4.5-5 ft (1.3 m-1.5 m). Griffon vultures have a span of 7.5-9.1 ft (2.3-2.8 m), giving them a little more length and width in their wings than the other vulture groups.

The red-headed vulture, which is often mistaken as a buzzard, has a wingspan of about 6.5-8.5 ft (2-2.6 m).

Most of the birds lack a strong sense of smell. However, the mighty vultures are known for their incredible sense of smell. Buzzards use their sense of smell and keen eyes to locate food, known as carrion. Flying low down, they try to detect decaying dead animals.

Vultures have a remarkable ability to sniff out a dead body or critter from a faraway place. The unique sulfurous compounds of decaying matter make them easier to smell from above for vultures. Vultures circle around a region, finding the origin or source of a smell.

There are white-headed vultures (Trigonoceps occipitalis) seen in Africa. Due to habitat degradation, a large number of vultures with a white color on their head is declining. Also, cases of poisoning of carcasses are a reason for vulture deaths.

Who flies higher, vultures or buzzards?

It is common to mistake a vulture for a buzzard or vice versa when looking at them as they fly.

While in flight, a buzzard looks like it is gliding and soaring high above with its wings in the shape of the letter V. This is similar to turkey vultures. The scavenger bird is a large, broad bird with rounded wings, a short neck and a fanned and finely barred tail with dark wingtips.

As for vultures, they are often seen circling around in tight circles in the sky. The same can be said for eagles and hawks.

Vultures and buzzards, and other birds of prey are typically associated with feeding on carcass as meals during their scavenging hunts. They lack the ability to kill live prey with their beak. Mostly, they are satisfied with carrion and human garbage or dead bodies.

However, on rare occasions, turkey vultures catch and kill live animals. As per aircraft reports, the turkey vulture (often known as the buzzard) flies up to heights of 20,000 ft (6096 m). They can travel long distances like 200 mi (320 km) per day.

Talking about the highest-flying bird, this title goes to the Ruppell’s griffon vulture. This Endangered species keeps the ecosystems healthy, eating the carrion all around Africa.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for buzzard vs vulture: differences between scavengers explained for kids! Then why not take a look at chameleon habitat: curious facts on this tree reptile explained! or chimpanzee skull: fascinating ape bone facts that kids

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Written by Christian Mba

Bachelor of Science specializing in Computer Science

Christian Mba picture

Christian MbaBachelor of Science specializing in Computer Science

Christian Mba is an experienced blogger and content writer with over a decade of experience. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Nigeria and has a keen interest in Python programming. Along with his writing and blogging expertise, he is also an SEO specialist with more than six years of experience. Chris, as he is commonly known, has a passion for music and enjoys playing the piano.

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