What kinds of birds can you find in California?
This question is hard to answer because of the vast number of birds found in California. Did you know there have been over 450 species recorded here?
As you can imagine, there was no way to include this many birds in the below article. So instead, I tried to focus on the birds that are most regularly seen and observed.
Today, you will learn 18 types of birds COMMON in California!
If you’re interested, you may be able to see some of the species listed below at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my feeders 24/7. 🙂
18 Common Species of Birds That Live in California:
#1. American Robin
- A beautiful thrush that features a rusty red breast and a dark head and back.
- Look for a white throat and white splotches around the eyes.
- Both sexes are similar, except that females appear paler.
American Robins are one of the most familiar birds in California!
They inhabit a wide variety of habitats and naturally are found everywhere from forests to the tundra. But these thrushes are comfortable around people and are common to see in backyards.
American Robin Range Map
Even though they are abundant, American Robins rarely visit bird feeders because they don’t eat seeds. Instead, their diet consists of invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and fruit. For example, I see robins frequently in my backyard, pulling up earthworms in the grass!
These birds also commonly nest near people. Look for an open cup-shaped nest that has 3-5 beautiful, distinctive sky blue color eggs.
American Robins sing a string of clear whistles, which is a familiar sound in spring. (Listen below)
Many people describe the sound as sounding like the bird is saying “cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up.”
#2. Downy Woodpecker
- These woodpeckers have a short bill and are relatively small.
- Color-wise, they have 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, which females lack.
Downy Woodpeckers are one of the most common birds in California! You probably recognize them, as they are seen in most backyards.
Downy Woodpecker Range Map
Luckily, this woodpecker species is easy to attract 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, make sure to use a specialized suet bird feeder.
What sounds do Downy Woodpeckers make?
Press PLAY above to hear a Downy Woodpecker!
Once you know what to listen for, my guess is that you will start hearing Downy Woodpeckers everywhere you go. Their calls resemble a high-pitched whinnying sound that descends in pitch towards the end.
#3. Hairy Woodpecker
- Appearance-wise, Hairy Woodpeckers have striped heads and an erect, straight-backed posture while on trees.
- Their bodies are black and white overall with a long, chisel-like bill.
- Male birds can be identified by a red patch at the back of their heads, which females lack.
Hairy Woodpecker Range Map
Hairy Woodpeckers are common birds in California in mature forests, suburban backyards, urban parks, swamps, orchards, and even cemeteries. Honestly, they can be found anywhere where large trees are abundant.
The most common call is a short, sharp “peek.” This sound is similar to what a Downy Woodpecker makes, except it’s slightly lower in pitch. They also make a sharp rattling or whinny.
Hairy Woodpeckers can be a bit tricky to identify because they look almost identical to Downy Woodpeckers! These two birds are confusing to many people and present a problem when trying to figure out which one you’re observing.
Here are the THREE best ways to tell these species apart:
- Hairy’s are larger and measure 9 – 11 inches (23 – 28 cm) long, which is about the same size as an American Robin. A Downy is smaller and only measures 6 – 7 inches (15-18 cm) in length, which is 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 that is almost the same size as their head.
Outer tail feathers:
- If all else fails, then try to get a good look at their outer tail feathers. Hairys will be completely white, while Downys are spotted.
#4. American Goldfinch
- In summer, males are a vivid yellow with a black cap and black wings. Females are a duller yellow and lack the black cap.
- In winter, both sexes look the same and turn a pale brown/olive color. They are identified by their black wings and white wing bar.
These small and colorful birds are common in California, and they should be relatively easy to attract to your backyard.
American Goldfinch Range Map
American Goldfinches love feeding on Nyjer seed, which not many other birds eat, along with sunflower kernels.
It’s helpful to include bird feeders specially designed for goldfinches. These small birds are easily scared off by larger “bullies.” They will appreciate having places that only they can use! I like the fact they can feed in any position, even upside down.
American Goldfinches are strict vegetarians. Their diet is exclusively made of seeds with no insects, which is rare in the bird world. Naturally, they feast on seeds from asters, thistles, sunflowers, grasses, and many types of trees.
Because of their diet, American Goldfinches breed later than other birds. They wait until June or July, when most plants are in full seed production, ensuring there is enough food for them to feed their babies.
To identify them by sound, listen for a pretty series of musical trills and warbles.
#5. House Sparrow
- Males have gray crowns, black bib, white cheeks, and chestnut on the sides of their face and neck. Their backs are predominantly brown with black streaks.
- Females are a dull brown color with streaks of black on their backs. Their underparts are light brown. They can be distinguished by the tan line that extends behind their eye.
House Sparrows are an invasive species (originally from the Middle East) and now one of the most abundant and widespread birds in California (and the world)!
Range Map – House Sparrow
House Sparrows compete with many native birds, such as bluebirds and Purple Martins, for nest cavities. Unfortunately, these invasive species tend to win more times than not.
In most urban and suburban areas it’s INCREDIBLY COMMON to see House Sparrows. They owe their success to their ability to adapt and live near humans. Unlike most other birds, they love grains and are commonly seen eating bread and popcorn at amusement parks, sporting events, etc. At your bird feeders, they especially love eating cracked corn, millet, and milo.
House Sparrows can be heard across the entire planet. In fact, pay attention the next time you’re watching the news in another country. Listen for a simple song that includes lots of “cheep” notes.
#6. House Finch
- Adult males are rosy red around their heads and upper breasts. They have brown streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Females are brown with streaks on their back, tail, and belly.
- Both sexes have conical beaks designed to eat seeds and notched tails.
It’s common to see these birds in California near people. Look for House Finches around buildings, backyards, parks, and other urban and suburban areas.
House Finch Range Map
House Finches are often the first birds to discover new bird feeders. These birds are intensely curious and rarely travel alone, so their arrival often helps other birds find your feeders too! I see them eating sunflower seed, Nyjer seed, and safflower the most in my backyard.
House Finches have a pleasant and enjoyable song, which can be heard year-round. Listen below to a series of jumbled, warbled notes.
#7. American Crow
- A large bird that is entirely black with an iridescent sheen.
- Long black bill, black legs, and black feet.
American Crows are adaptable birds and common in northern & western California in almost every habitat.
American Crow Range Map
The list of places they can be found includes woodlands, fields, rivers, marshes, farms, parks, landfills, golf courses, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.
While they don’t come to feeders as often as other birds, there are a few foods that attract them consistently. Personally, the crows in my backyard LOVE peanuts, whether in the shell or out. Whole kernel corn and suet also seems to be consumed readily.
Can you count how many peanuts these crows fit in their mouth?
Believe it or not, American Crows are one of the smartest birds in California.
For example, they can use tools, solve problems, and recognize human faces. It seems that crows even do things just for fun! Seriously, if you search the internet, it’s easy to find videos of them using round objects to sled down roofs.
American Crows have a large vocabulary. Listen for any number of caws, rattles, cackles, and clicks. The most common sound is a “caw-caw.” (Listen below)
#8. Song Sparrow
- Chest has brown streaks that converge onto a central breast spot.
- Head has a brown crown with a grey stripe down the middle. Also, look for a grey eyebrow and cheek.
- Back and body are mostly rust-brown with gray streaks throughout.
Sparrows can be incredibly difficult to identify, due to how many types of sparrows there are and the fact they look very similar. But luckily, Song Sparrows are one of the easier sparrow species to determine correctly.
Song Sparrow Range Map
These birds are common in California, especially in wet, shrubby, and open areas.
Unlike other birds that nest in trees, Song Sparrows primarily nest in weeds and grasses. Many times you will find them nesting directly on the ground.
My favorite feature of Song Sparrows is their beautiful songs that can be heard across the continent. The typical one, which you can listen to below, consists of three short notes followed by a pretty trill. The song varies depending on location and the individual bird.
#9. White-breasted Nuthatch
- 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. Color-wise, they have distinctive white cheeks and chest, along with a blue-gray back.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
Look for these 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.
To attract nuthatches, use sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, safflower seeds, and mealworms. Choose high-quality food and try to avoid mixes that contain milo or other grains, which won’t be eaten by most songbirds.
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)
#10. Red-winged Blackbird
- Males are all black, except for a bright red and yellow patch on their shoulders.
- Females are brown and heavily streaked. There is a bit of yellow around their bill.
- Both sexes have a conical bill and are commonly seen sitting on cattails or perched high in a tree overlooking their territory.
Red-winged Blackbird Range Map
During the breeding season, these birds are almost exclusively found in marshes and other wet areas. Females build nests in between dense grass-like vegetation, such as cattails, sedges, and bulrushes. Males aggressively defend the nest against intruders, and I have even been attacked by Red-winged Blackbirds while walking near the swamp in my backyard!
- RELATED: 10 LIVE Bird Feeder Cams From Around the World [Including MINE!]
When it’s the nonbreeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds spend much of their time in grasslands, farm fields, and pastures looking for weedy seeds to eat. It’s common for them to be found in large flocks that feature various other blackbird species, such as grackles, cowbirds, and starlings.
Red-winged Blackbirds are easy to identify by their sounds! (Press PLAY below)
If you visit a wetland or marsh in spring, you are almost guaranteed to hear males singing and displaying, trying to attract a mate. Listen for a rich, musical song, which lasts about one second and sounds like “conk-la-ree!“
#11. European Starling
- A common bird in California, they are about the size of an American Robin. Their plumage is black and appears to be shiny.
- Short tail with a long slender beak.
- Breeding adults are darker black and have a green-purple tint. In winter, starlings lose their glossiness, their beaks become darker, and they develop white spots over their bodies.
Did you know these birds are an invasive species and aren’t supposed to be in California?
European Starling Range Map
Back in 1890, one hundred starlings were brought over from Europe and released in New York City’s Central Park. The rest is history as starlings easily conquered the continent, along the way out-competing many of our beautiful native birds.
Their ability to adapt to human development and eat almost anything is uncanny to almost no other species.
When starlings visit in small numbers, they are fun to watch and have beautiful plumage. Unfortunately, these aggressive birds can ruin a party quickly when they visit in massive flocks, chasing away all of the other birds while eating your expensive bird food. To keep these blackbirds away from your bird feeders, you will need to take extreme action and implement some proven strategies.
Starlings are impressive vocalists!
Listen for a mix of musical, squeaky, rasping notes. They are also known to imitate other birds.
#12. Brown-headed Cowbird
- Look for a stocky, chunky blackbird with a thick, conical bill.
- Males have completely black bodies with a brown head (hence the name). In poor light, it can be hard to tell that the head is actually brown.
- Females are a plain brown color. There is slight streaking on the belly and a black eye.
Brown-headed Cowbird Range Map
Brown-headed Cowbirds are considered “brood parasites.”
#13. House Wren
The House Wren is a common bird in California.
Even though they almost never visit bird feeders, they are often seen zipping through backyards while hunting insects. A great way to draw these wrens to your yard is to create brush piles, which offer cover for them and places for insects to gather.
Appearance-wise, House Wrens are small, brown birds. They have a short tail, thin bill, and dark barring on their wings and tail. Both males and females look the same.
House Wren Range Map
House Wrens are commonly encountered by people when their nests are found in odd places. For example, when I was a kid, I remember we found a nest in a clothespin bag hanging outside. Before my mom could access her clothespins, she had to wait until the wrens had raised their young and abandoned the twig nest! Other weird spots for nests include boots, cans, or boxes.
One of the best ways to locate a House Wren is to listen for their distinctive song.
The best way to describe it is a beautiful, energetic flutelike melody, consisting of very rapid squeaky chatters and rattles.
Press PLAY above to hear a House Wren singing!
#14. Mourning Dove
- A mostly grayish dove with large black spots on the wings and a long thin tail.
- Look for pinkish legs, a black bill, and a distinctive blue eye-ring.
- Males and females look the same.
This bird is the most common and familiar dove in California.
Look for them perched high up in trees or on a telephone wire near your home. They are also commonly seen on the ground, which is where they do most of their feeding.
Mourning Dove Range Map
Mourning Doves are common visitors to bird feeding stations!
To attract them, try putting out their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower. Mourning Doves need a flat place to feed, so the best feeders for them are trays or platforms. They are probably most comfortable feeding on the ground, so make sure to throw a bunch of food there too.
It’s common to hear Mourning Doves in California.
Listen for a low “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” In fact, this mournful sound is how the dove got its name! Many people commonly mistake this sound for an owl. (Press PLAY below!)
#15. Rock Pigeon
- A plump bird with a small head, short legs, and a thin bill.
- The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. But their plumage is highly variable, and it’s common to see varieties ranging from all-white to rusty-brown.
Rock Pigeons are extremely common birds in California, but they are almost exclusively found in urban areas.
Rock Pigeon Range Map
These birds are easy to identify by sound. My guess is that you will already recognize their soft, throaty coos. (Press PLAY below)
Love them or hate them, Rock Pigeons have been associated with humans for a long time! Some Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest that people started domesticating them over 5,000 years ago. And because of these facts, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range was.
#16. Pileated Woodpecker
There are not many birds that will make you stop what you’re doing quite like a Pileated Woodpecker. These birds are HUGE, and adults can be up to 19 inches (48 cm) long and have a wingspan of 30 inches (99 cm)! For reference, this is about the size of a crow.
In addition to their large size, these birds are mostly black but with white stripes on their face and neck. Look for a large triangle red crest on the top of their heads. Males have a red stripe on their cheek, where the stripe is black on females.
Pileated Woodpecker Range Map
Pileated Woodpeckers are common birds in California in large, mature forests with lots of dead and fallen trees. They rely on rotting wood consisting of ants, wood-boring beetles, and termites to find food. Although they will supplement their diet with fruits and nuts.
Press PLAY below to hear a Pileated Woodpecker!
These birds are quite vocal, and you should have no problem hearing one. Listen for a loud “cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk,” which rises and falls in pitch and volume. Just to warn you, Northern Flickers sound incredibly similar!
Pileated Woodpeckers will visit suet feeders!
Yes, it’s possible to attract these stunning birds to your backyard. They are most often seen dining on suet. The above video was taken from my bird feeding station! 🙂
#17: Rufous Hummingbird
How To Identify:
- Males: Bright copper-orange on their back (although some males have a green back) and sides of their belly. Beautiful reddish-orange iridescent throat. White breast and ear patch behind eye. Compared to other hummingbird species, they are small.
- Females: They have a green crown, neck, and back. Rufous (copper) colored sides with a white breast and belly. Some females have a spot of red or orange on their throats.
Rufous Hummingbirds are one of the most aggressive types of birds in California!
Be careful if one finds your hummingbird feeders or garden, as they will relentlessly attack and drive away other hummingbirds (including much larger species) away. They have even been seen chasing chipmunks!
Rufous Hummingbird Range Map
Rufous Hummingbirds have an interesting migration pattern. In the spring, they fly north up the Pacific Coast to their summer breeding grounds. They return to their winter homes in Mexico and southern California by flying a completely different route along the Rocky Mountains!
What sounds do Rufous Hummingbirds make?
The most common sound you will hear these birds make is a series of chipping notes, which are given as a warning to intruding birds. Males also make a “chu-chu-chu” call at the bottom of a dive while trying to impress females.
#18. Bullock’s Oriole
Bullock’s Orioles are the most common oriole in California. Look for them in open woodlands or parks, where there are large trees spaced out a bit.
- Males are bright orange and easily identified by a black line that runs across their eyes and a black throat.
- Females look different and have a yellowish head, chest, and tail with a grayish body.
Bullock’s Oriole Range Map
You can try to attract these birds to your backyard by offering sugary foods, which help them replenish energy after a long migration from Mexico. Like other oriole species, the best foods to use are orange slices, jelly, and nectar.
Press PLAY below to hear a Bullock’s Oriole singing!
There is a lot of individual variation with the songs of Bullock’s Orioles. But in general, listen for clear, flutelike whistles that are around 3 seconds long, and often interspersed with rattles.
Do you need help identifying or attracting birds?
Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist!
- A book I wrote that answers the 37 most commonly asked questions about attracting birds To YOUR backyard.
Which of these birds have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about birds in California, check out my other guides!
29 Types of WATER BIRDS That Live in California (Ducks, herons, loons, etc.)
24 Types of BIRDS OF PREY That are Found in California! (Hawks, owls, eagles, etc.)
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!