If you do much hiking in this area, as I do, you’re bound to see turkey vultures wheeling around in the sky, riding the air currents and keeping an eye out for a bite to eat. These homely birds are ubiquitous at Lake Natoma, unlike the more secretive family of bald eagles who recently moved into the area. It’s a very lucky day when I spot an eagle while out hiking — so it’s good to know for sure which bird is which, even from a distance.
It was only recently that I learned, thanks to my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds, how to tell the difference between an eagle and a vulture when the birds are soaring, even at a good distance: the bald eagle’s wings remain flat, while the turkey vulture’s wings curve up toward the tips, forming a dihedral. (Things get more complicated if you have other large birds in the area, like golden eagles and some types of hawks, but visual clues are helpful.)
Today I saw no eagles; it’s vultures yet again that are in my shots, and they’ll do just fine.