11 BLACK and WHITE Birds Found in California!

Did you recently see a mystery BLACK and WHITE bird in California?

Types of black and white birds in California

If so, I’m guessing you are trying to identify the species correctly!

Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different BLACK and WHITE birds found in California. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!

Fortunately, many of the black and white birds listed below visit bird feeders, so you have a great chance of attracting them to your yard. If you’re incredibly fortunate, you may even see one at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂

11 BLACK and WHITE birds in California:

#1. White-breasted Nuthatch

  • Sitta carolinensis

Birds that are black and white in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Both sexes look almost the same.
  • Males have a black cap on the top of their heads.
  • Females display a lighter, more gray crown.

White-breasted Nuthatches are compact birds with no neck, a short tail, and a long pointy bill. Colorwise, they have distinctive white cheeks and chest, a black back and stripes, and a gray back.

White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map

Look for these grey, black, and white birds in California in deciduous forests. But they adapt well to the presence of humans and are often seen at parks, cemeteries, and wooded backyards visiting bird feeders. Use sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, and mealworms to attract nuthatches.

These birds are incredibly vocal AND make distinctive noises that are relatively easy to identify! You are most likely to hear a “yank” call, which is given at any time of year. This loud and distinctive noise is often repeated several times in a row. (Press PLAY to listen below)

#2. Northern Mockingbird

  • Mimus polyglottos

California black and white birds

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Medium-sized songbird with a LONG, slender tail.
  • Distinctive white wing patches that are visible when in flight.

These black and white birds are hard to miss in California!

First, Northern Mockingbirds LOVE to sing, and they rarely stop. Sometimes they will even sing through the entire night. If this happens to you, it’s advised to keep your windows closed if you want to get any sleep. 🙂

Northern Mockingbird Range Map

northern mockingbird range map

In addition, Northern Mockingbirds have bold personalities. For example, it’s common for them to harass other birds by flying slowly around them and then approaching with their wings up, showing off their white wing patches.

They are common in backyards but rarely eat from bird feeders. Nonetheless, I have heard from many people complaining that mockingbirds are scaring away the other birds from their feeders, even though mockingbirds don’t eat from feeders themselves!

#3. Downy Woodpecker

  • Dryobates pubescens
Black and white birds in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A shorter bill that is relatively small compared to other woodpecker species.
  • White bellies, with a mostly black back that features streaks and spots of white.
  • Male birds have a distinctive red spot on the back of their head.

Downy Woodpeckers are one of the most common black and white birds in California!

Naturally, they are seen in deciduous woods that have a water source nearby. But these birds have adapted well to human development and are commonly observed in suburban backyards, parks, orchards, and cemeteries.

Downy Woodpecker Range Map

Luckily, this black and white species is easy to draw to your backyard. The best foods to use are suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts (including peanut butter). You may even spot them drinking sugar water from your hummingbird feeders! If you use suet products to attract woodpeckers, use a specialized suet bird feeder.

#4. Hairy Woodpecker

  • Dryobates villosus
Types of black and white birds in California

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Their bodies are black and white overall with a long, chisel-like bill.
  • Male birds can be identified by a red patch on their heads, which females lack.

These black and white birds are common in California in mature forests, suburban backyards, urban parks, swamps, orchards, and even cemeteries. Appearance-wise, Hairy Woodpeckers have been compared to soldiers, as they have cleanly striped heads and an erect, straight-backed posture while on trees.

Hairy Woodpecker Range Map

Hairy Woodpeckers can be tricky to identify because they look almost identical to Downy Woodpeckers! These two birds are confusing to many people and present a problem when figuring out the correct species.

Here are 3 ways to differentiate Hairy vs. Downy Woodpeckers:


  • Hairy Woodpeckers are larger and measure 9 – 11 inches long, which is about the same size as an American Robin. A Downy is smaller and only measures 6 – 7 inches in length, slightly bigger than a House Sparrow.


  • Looking at the size of their bills in relation to their head is my FAVORITE way to tell these woodpeckers apart. Downys have a tiny bill, which measures a bit less than half the length of their head, while Hairys have a bill almost the same length as their head.

Outer tail feathers:

  • If all else fails, try to get a good look at their outer tail feathers. Hairys will be completely white, while Downys are spotted black.

*Just a warning that almost all species of woodpeckers are black and white. So if the bird you saw was a woodpecker but NOT a Downy or Hairy, check out the below article for additional help.* 🙂

#5. Common Loon

  • Gavia immer

common loon

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Long bodies with a strong, thick, dagger-like bill. They sit low in the water.
  • Breeding adults have a black head and a black and white checkerboard back.
  • Non-breeding adults are much duller and have a uniformly grayish back and head.

Common Loons are one of my FAVORITE black and white birds in California.

These gorgeous waterbirds are strong and fast swimmers and routinely catch fish in high-speed underwater chases. In fact, they have even adapted solid bones (most bird bones are hollow), which makes it easier to dive since they are less buoyant.

Common Loon Range Map

common loon range map


To help prevent other birds from stealing their food, Common Loons typically swallow their prize while still underwater. And to ensure the slippery fish doesn’t escape once caught, loons have rear-facing projections inside their mouth that sink in and provide a tight grip.

One of my favorite things about these black and white birds is the wonderful, eerie sounds they make. Listen for a repertoire of vocalizations, which all signify something. LISTEN BELOW!

YouTube video


For example, their tremolo calls are used when alarmed. Yodeling is given by males to announce their territories. And their famous haunting wail calls help mated pairs locate each other.

#6. Common Goldeneye

  • Bucephala clangula

common goldeneyes

How to identify:

  • Males have a dark green head, a bright yellow eye, and a distinctive white cheek patch. The body is mostly white with a black back and rump.
  • Females have a brown head, a short dark bill with a yellow tip at the end, and a pale yellow eye. Look for their white neck collar and grayish bodies.

Common Goldeneyes are expert diving ducks. These birds can stay underwater for up to a minute as they search for their prey, which includes aquatic invertebrates, fish, fish eggs, along with seeds and tubers from submerged vegetation.

Luckily, their population has remained strong and stable. One of their biggest threats is that they are cavity nesters and rely upon forestry practices that don’t cut down dead trees. Many dedicated people have put up nest boxes in their breeding range to help provide more good nesting spots.

Common Goldeneye Range Map

common goldeneye range map

Hunters commonly refer to the Common Goldeneye as the “whistler” because of their wings’ distinctive whistling noises when flying.

*Just a warning that various other ducks in California are black and white, but the Common Goldeneye is the ONLY one on this list. So if the bird you saw was a duck but NOT a Common Goldeneye, check out the below article for additional help.* 🙂

#7. Loggerhead Shrike

  • Lanius ludovicianus

loggerhead shrike

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Grey songbird with a chunky black mask.
  • Black wings. Prominent white flashes appear during flight.
  • Look for their distinctive hooked bill.

Don’t let their small size fool you.

These white, black, and grey birds are lethal predators in California!

Loggerhead Shrikes eat a variety of prey items, including birds, insects, lizards, and small mammals. They are typically found in grasslands, where they hunt by perching themselves on a fence, utility post, or another prominent perch.

Loggerhead Shrike Range Map

loggerhead shrike range map

They have even adapted to hunting food that is poisonous to other species. A Monarch Butterfly is a great example, which is toxic to most animals due to the milkweed it consumes. But Loggerhead Shrikes don’t care. They will impale the butterfly, then let it sit for a few days before consuming it, which provides time for the poisons to break down!

#8. Black-billed Magpie

  • Pica hudsonia

large black and white birds

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A large black and white bird with a long tail.
  • In the right light, you can see beautiful blue iridescent feathers on the wings and tail.

It’s hard to miss these black and white birds in California!

Black-billed Magpies demand your attention. They are very social, noisy, and comfortable living amongst people and are commonly seen in smaller towns. Naturally, they live in open grasslands and plains and tend to avoid dense forests.

Black-billed Magpie Range Map

Being part of the corvid family, which also includes jays and crows, Black-billed Magpies are incredibly intelligent. One interesting behavior is that they seem to have funerals when they discover a deceased magpie. Individual birds will begin calling loudly to attract more magpies, eventually having as many as 40 birds gathered for 10-15 minutes before flying away silently.

#9. Black-necked Stilt

  • Himantopus mexicanus

common black and white shorebirds

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are black above and white below with white around the eyes.
  • They have needle-like bills and rosy pink legs.

These delicate-looking black and white birds favor open habitats in California with limited vegetation and shallow water. Black-necked Stilts forage by wading in shallow waters. They typically grab food off the water’s surface with their bill, but they also catch flying insects or chase small fish into the shallows.

During the breeding season, Black-necked Stilts engage in animated courtship displays. Just before mating, the pair will dip their bills in the water and then preen while facing each other. This action becomes very frenzied and involves a lot of splashing. It’s quite a lively display and unmistakable if you spot it!

Nesting stilts sometimes form a ring around an approaching predator, calling loudly, flapping their wings, and leaping up and down in what researchers refer to as a “popcorn display.” This species is even known to act aggressively toward humans, striking from behind with their legs.

#10. Western Grebe

  • Aechmophorus occidentalis

western grebe

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A slender water bird with a long neck and long dagger-like bill.
  • Black upperparts and a black cap on their head.
  • White neck and cheeks. Red eyes.

Western Grebes are typically found in deep inland lakes with marshy edges during the summer breeding season, then they migrate to the Pacific Ocean for the remainder of the year. It’s rare to ever see these black and white birds ashore in California.

Western Grebe Range Map

western grebe range map

One look at their bill, and you can tell that Western Grebes are experts at catching fish. They take long, deep dives looking for their prey. Interestingly, while preening themselves, they tend to eat their feathers, which are thought to help protect their stomach from sharp fish bones!

Western Grebes are known for their elaborate courtship display, which you have to SEE to believe. (Press PLAY below to watch) The male and female lift themselves out of the water and run across it together, ending with a dive. This “rushing ceremony” typically signifies that two individuals will soon be breeding together.

#11. Clark’s Grebe

  • Aechmophorus clarkii

clark's grebes

Identifying Characteristics:

  • A slender water bird with a long neck and long dagger-like bill.
  • Black upperparts and a black cap on their head.
  • White neck and cheeks. Red eyes.

Clark’s Grebes are almost identical to Western Grebes. In fact, they were considered the same species until 1985, when it was found they have differences in their DNA, make different calls, and almost never interbreed.

Clark’s Grebe Range Map

clarks grebe range map

There are two ways to differentiate a Clark’s Grebe from a Western Grebe:

western vs clarks grebe

  • First, the bill of a Clark’s Grebe tends to be a more bright orange-yellow color.
  • Second, the black cap does not reach down to the eye in a Clark’s Grebe. Black plumage surrounds the red eyes of a Western Grebe.

Clark’s Grebes even perform the same “rushing ceremony,” which you can watch above, that Western Grebes use to solidify their mating partner.

Which of these BLACK and WHITE birds have you seen before in California?

Leave a COMMENT below. Make sure you tell us WHERE you saw the bird. 🙂

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One Comment

  1. I live in Bakersfield, CA and have seen a black & white bird in my backyard. It’s shaped something like a jay, similar size too. Looking at your pictures, I think the coloring must resembles the magpie. Any thoughts?