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 about 39 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. 🙂
#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.
#19. Chipping Sparrow
- Spizella passerina
- Some are brightly colored with a rusty crown, grayish belly, and a black-streaked eyeline.
- Others are paler with a brownish crown, grayish belly, and an unstreaked neck and belly.
- Both sexes are slim with a long tail and medium-sized bill.
Chipping Sparrows are common in California.
Luckily, they’re easy to identify, thanks to their rust-colored crown. You’ll often see them at backyard feeding stations, eating black oil sunflower seeds and other seed mixes on the ground.
Chipping Sparrow Range Map
Look for them in the woods by grassy meadows. These sparrows are also common in suburban areas!
Chipping Sparrows have loud, trilling songs. Their songs are long trill notes that they repeat over and over, almost sounding mechanical. Listen below!
#20. Dark-eyed Junco
- Junco hyemalis
- Smooth and soft-looking slate gray with a white belly.
- Small pale bill, long tail with white outer feathers.
- Dark-eyed Juncos have various color patterns depending on the region.
Dark-eyed Juncos are one of the most common birds in California. You can easily identify these birds by how smooth their feathers look. Or look for a white flash from their tail feathers as they are flying away.
Dark-eyed Junco Range Map
This species is found in pine and mixed-coniferous forests when they breed, but in winter, they are seen in fields, parks, woodlands, and backyards. Dark-eyed Juncos have earned the nickname “Snowbirds” or “Winter birds” because they only show up every winter in many parts of their range.
Dark-eyed Juncos like to visit feeders in the winter, but ONLY ON THE GROUND, where they consume fallen seeds.
Males sing a two-second loud musical trilling song that can carry hundreds of feet away. In addition, both sexes also sing softer songs that are a mixture of warbles, trills, and whistles.
#21. Pine Siskin
- Spinus pinus
- Both sexes are small, brown, and streaked with fine yellow edging on their wings and tails.
- Sharply pointed bill and a short, forked tail and long pointed wingtips.
- The only finch in California that looks the same between sexes.
Pine Siskins are typically found in mixed evergreen or deciduous forests, but they will move to a new place in search of food, like weedy fields, backyards, or gardens.
Pine Siskins can be seen visiting bird feeders during the winter. They prefer to eat smaller seeds without tough shells, such as sunflower seeds or Nyjer seeds.
Pine Siskin Range Map
These small birds are very social and search for food in flocks while chirping nonstop to each other. They don’t even stop chattering when flying!
Listen below to the Pine Siskin’s song, a twittering warble that rises and falls in pitch. They randomly throw in a “ZZZzzzzzreeee” that rises in pitch every so often. You will notice they sound more wheezy than other finches in California.
#22. White-crowned Sparrow
- Zonotrichia leucophrys
- Both sexes can be grayish or brownish with a long tail.
- They have stripes on their heads in black and white or brown and tan. The head is peaked on the crown.
- Bills are orangish-yellow or pinkish.
White-crowned Sparrows are found in shrubbery habitats with open grassy areas in the breeding season. In winter, they prefer weedy fields, thickets, and backyards.
White-crowned Sparrow Range Map
If you want to attract these sparrows to your feeding station, use sunflower seeds. Just make sure the food is placed on the ground, as they won’t fly up to feeders. And having a brush pile will entice them to stay by giving them places to hide and feel safe.
White-crowned Sparrows are known for their long migration journeys. This sparrow has been known to travel over 300 miles in one night.
Males primarily sing, but on occasion, so will females. Their song lasts only a few seconds. Listen below:
#23. White-throated Sparrow
- Zonotrichia albicollis
- Both sexes’ colors can vary from gray to tan on their chunky bodies.
- The head is typically black and white striped with a yellow spot between the eyes.
- White throat patch, gray face, and a small bill.
Look for these birds in California along the edge of forests. They enjoy scratching at the ground under leaves or picking leaves up and moving them out of the way with their bill.
White-throated Sparrow Range Map
White-throated Sparrows readily visit bird feeders. You can attract them by offering sunflower seeds or millet, near a thicket where they will feel safe is best. Make sure some of the food ends up on the ground, as they won’t fly up to feeders.
White-throated Sparrows sing a high-pitched whistle that is easy to learn. Just listen for “Oh-sweet-Canada-Canada.”
#24. Northern Mockingbird
- Mimus polyglottos
- Medium-sized gray songbird with a LONG, slender tail.
- Distinctive white wing patches that are visible when in flight.
These birds are hard to ignore in California!
First, Northern Mockingbirds LOVE to sing, and they almost never 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. 🙂
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.
Northern Mockingbird Range Map
These gray birds are common in backyards, but they rarely eat from bird feeders. Nonetheless, I have heard from many people complaining that mockingbirds are scaring away the other birds from their feeding station, even though mockingbirds don’t even eat from feeders themselves!
#25. Red-breasted Nuthatch
- Sitta canadensis
Red-breasted Nuthatches are active little songbirds that have beautiful coloring. Look for compact birds that have almost no neck and a very short tail.
These small nuthatches breed in northern North America, the western mountains, and the upper northeast. But during winter, they can truly show up almost anywhere. These birds travel where needed to make sure they have enough food. In some years, they have been seen as far south as the Gulf of Mexico and Northern Mexico!
Red-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
Red-breasted Nuthatches are mostly found in California in coniferous forests. Their preferred habitat contrasts sharply to White-breasted Nuthatches, who prefer living in deciduous forests.
Have you ever heard a tin horn while in the woods?
If so, you were probably listening to a Red-breasted Nuthatch! These birds make a fast series of nasally “yank-yank-yank” sounds, which have been compared to the sound that a toy tin horn makes. These calls are typically made by males that are still looking for a mate.
#26. Common Raven
- Corvus corax
- Large bird that is completely black, including its eyes and bill.
- The bill is hefty and thick.
- In flight, look for their wedge-shaped tail.
Ravens are one of the SMARTEST birds in California!
For example, one study has shown that they are drawn to gunshots during hunting season to investigate the carcass but clearly ignore other loud noises that don’t lead to food, such as an air horn. Their intelligence makes them efficient predators, and it’s common for ravens to team up to get food, such as stealing eggs from nests or attacking larger prey like newly born lambs.
Common Raven Range Map
Since they are so smart and adaptable, Common Ravens are found in a wide range of habitats. Look for them living near the edges of towns, especially in landfills that supply an endless amount of food. But ravens also have no problem living far away from civilization.
Common Ravens are impressive vocalists that make many different types of calls, from harsh grating calls to shrill alarm sounds. But the most common sound you will hear in the wild is a gurgling croak that rises in pitch. Interestingly, they are able to mimic the sounds of many other bird species and even humans if they are raised in captivity.
#27. Black-billed Magpie
- Pica hudsonia
- 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 bold 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.
#28. Mountain Bluebird
- Sialia currucoides
- Males are covered with beautiful sky-blue feathers on their heads, back, and wings.
- Females are a bit trickier since they are primarily gray-brown, with tinges of blue on their tails and wings.
There are not many things more beautiful than seeing one of these bluebirds while hiking in the mountains. 🙂
The best place to look for these birds in California is in open areas. As their name suggests, Mountain Bluebirds are observed at elevations up to 12,500 feet during the breeding season. However, once winter arrives, they typically fly down to lower elevations.
Mountain Bluebird Range Map
Mountain Bluebirds feast on insects during warm months and switch their diet to primarily berries in winter. But unlike other bluebird species, they are excellent aerial hunters and routinely grab insects out of midair!
Finding a suitable nesting location is crucial for female Mountain Bluebirds; they rarely care about anything else. She chooses her mate almost solely based on the quality of his nesting cavity, ignoring things like looks, singing skills, and flying ability.
Next time you are in a mountain valley or meadow, keep your ears open and listen for a Mountain Bluebird. Press PLAY below!
#29. Steller’s Jay
- Cyanocitta stelleri
- Larger bird with a black head, rounded wings, and a long tail.
- A tall black crest on the crown of the head helps identify them.
- Both sexes are half black and half blue on their wings, belly, and tail.
You will find the Steller’s Jay in evergreen forests in California. These bold birds often visit parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
Steller’s Jay Range Map
This jay is very intelligent, bold, and noisy. You can attract them to your feeders by providing peanuts, larger seeds, and suet.
Steller’s Jays are often nest robbers. They have even been known to attack or kill small adult birds like nuthatches or juncos.
Males and sometimes females have calls that sound like “shaack, shaack, shaack,” shooka, shooka.” Listen below.
#30. Western Bluebird
- Sialia Mexicana
- Males are vibrant blue with a rusty chest, blue throat, and gray belly.
- Females look similar, but the colors are more subdued.
Look for these birds in California at the edge of forests or open woodlands. Western Bluebirds are not often found in meadows and fields. Instead, these birds opt for the woods. Their favorite habitat seems to be areas that have been logged or burned, as these places are open but still contain many trees.
Western Bluebirds stay close to the ground so they can fly down quickly to catch insects, which are their favorite food. In fact, they even fly low to the ground! They can usually be found perched on low limbs, signs, and fence posts.
Western Bluebird Range Map
Bluebirds only nest in enclosed cavities. Competition is high for these limited spots, and they regularly compete with nuthatches, wrens, European Starlings, House Sparrows, swallows, and even other Western Bluebirds.
You should try listening for Western Bluebirds next time you are out. These birds make a soft call, which phonetically often sounds like “kew” repeated several times. Press PLAY to hear a Western Bluebird!
#31. Spotted Towhee
- Pipilo maculatus
- Chunky body, a short neck, and a rounded tail.
- Males are mostly black with white spots on the wings and a white belly with rusty-colored sides.
- Females are similar-looking but are mostly grayish-brown.
Spotted Towhees are often fleetingly seen while flying between patches of cover. You can also look for them hopping around fallen leaves, close to cover, foraging for food. They use the double scratch technique to find seeds and insects in the soil.
Spotted Towhee Range Map
This species is found mainly in dense, shrubby habitats near the ground, including forest edges, overgrown fields, and sometimes backyards. They like to eat seeds on the ground under feeders when they’re not too far from cover.
Some Spotted Towhees have a song mixed with buzzy notes and a trill, while others only have a trilling song. Listen below.
#32. Great-tailed Grackle
- Quiscalus mexicanus
- These blackbirds are fairly large, slender, and have long legs,
- Males are iridescent and completely black. Look for their bright yellow eyes and long V-shaped tail.
- Females are about half the size of males. Their upperparts are dark brown, while below, they feature paler brown plumage.
Great-tailed Grackles are brash birds in California that are often found in large flocks. It’s common to see them living near people, such as at parks, farms, landfills, or neighborhood backyards. Naturally, they live in open forests, marshes, and chaparral.
Their range has spread over the past century because of their fondness for agricultural areas and urban areas. In fact, they are one of the fastest expanding species in North America!
Great-tailed Grackle Range Map
Interestingly, it’s common for “sex-biased” populations of Great-tailed Grackles to occur where female birds greatly outnumber males. This happens for two reasons.
- #1. Females have a higher survival rate in the nest since they are smaller and require less food.
- #2. On average, females live longer than males.
Because of their wide array of vocalizations, it’s hard to describe the sounds that these blackbirds make! Descriptions of their whistles, squeals, and rattles include everything from “sweet, tinkling notes” to “rusty gate hinges.” Regardless, Great-tailed Grackles can sure make a lot of loud noises, especially when they gather in enormous flocks numbering in the tens of thousands!
#33. White-winged Dove
- Zenaida asiatica
- A pale grayish-brown dove with a white stripe on the edge of the wing.
- Short, square-tipped tail.
- Distinctive black mark on their cheek.
White-winged Doves have adapted well to the presence of humans, and they are commonly found in cities and backyards in southeast California. They readily visit bird feeding stations that offer sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, milo, and cracked corn.
White-winged Dove Range Map
Like other dove species, White-winged Doves have a few interesting abilities:
- When nestlings are born, the parents feed them something known as “crop milk.” This secretion is regurgitated from the lining of the esophagus.
- Pigeons and doves can drink water while their head is down. They don’t need to look skyward to swallow, which is rare among birds.
Males sing to attract females and make a series of hooting coos, which sounds like they are saying, “who cooks for you.” Many times, the final coo is longer than the rest.
- Psaltriparus minimus
- TINY birds.
- Appear plump with large heads and long tails.
- Plain gray or brown. Short, stubby bill.
If you see one of these small birds in California, you can be confident there are many more around! These social birds typically travel in flocks of 10 to 40 individuals.
Bushtits are very small but also extremely active. Look for them in thickets or low branches, along the edges of woodlands and parks. These birds are acrobatic, and it’s common to see them hanging upside down, looking for food on the undersides of vegetation.
Bushtit Range Map
Bushtits visit bird feeders, but it’s more common during colder months when bugs aren’t as readily available to eat. Try feeding suet, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and mealworms. Just be prepared because when they do arrive at your feeding station, there can be upwards of 30 individuals mobbing the place! 🙂
#35. Anna’s Hummingbird
How To Identify:
- Males: They are best known for their iridescent pinkish-red heads. Underparts are a mix between gray and green. Tail and back are dark green. Most of the time, a broken white eye-ring is visible.
- Females: Duller than the males, with a green cap and body. Their tail has a white tip. Many birds have a patch of metallic purple or red on their throat.
- *Similar Species: Costa’s Hummingbird, which is smaller with a purple throat and slightly down-curved bill.
These jeweled beauties are tiny birds that are no larger than a ping-pong ball and weigh about the same as a nickel.
Anna’s are different from most hummers since they don’t migrate much, if at all. These hummingbirds are year-round residents from southern British Columbia to northern Mexico. They have varied habitats, including deserts, mountains, woodlands, gardens, and chaparral.
Anna’s Hummingbird Range Map
Anna’s Hummingbirds are known for their thrilling mating displays. The male starts by hovering in front of his chosen female for a few seconds. Then he flies straight up to heights of 130 feet (40m), concluding with him diving straight down and giving a loud squeak within a few feet of his target.
To help locate these hummingbirds in California, listen for a long song that often lasts ten seconds or more. The song starts with a series of buzzes, which is then followed by a pleasant-sounding whistle. The entire sequence can last more than ten seconds and typically finishes with some chip notes.
#36. Acorn Woodpecker
- Melanerpes formicivorus
Acorn Woodpeckers are easy to find in California.
You just need to find and take a walk in a forest with LOTS of oak trees and look for a bird that resembles a clown!
These woodpeckers rely on acorns as one of their primary food sources (hence the name). They have an interesting way of storing these acorns, as they put each nut into individually drilled holes in “storage” trees.
These trees, also called granaries, can house up to 50,000 nuts that the woodpeckers use for food when needed! The acorns are shoved so tightly into each space that other animals have difficulty getting them out. And amazingly, all of these tiny holes don’t kill the tree! But if you have a house with wood siding, and these woodpeckers have discovered it, you may have a hard time getting rid of them. 🙂
Acorn Woodpecker Range Map
Acorn Woodpeckers also have incredibly fascinating and complex social lives. For example, they live in family groups of up to twelve individuals. These groups cooperate in many aspects, including raising young, finding food, and guarding the food stored in their granaries.
These birds make very distinctive sounds, so make sure to listen for Acorn Woodpeckers if you find yourself hiking in an oak forest. Calls resemble “waka-waka-waka.”
#37. California Scrub-Jay
- Aphelocoma californica
- Medium-sized crestless jay.
- Both sexes have blue heads, wings, and tails. A white throat outlined with a blue necklace.
These birds are found in California in scrubland and oak woodlands.
California Scrub-Jay Range Map
This species primarily eat grains, fruits, frogs, lizards, and, unfortunately, eggs and young of other birds.
You can attract California Scrub-Jays with sunflower seeds and peanuts. If you are lucky and have them come for a quick meal, you will enjoy watching them because they are very vocal and playful birds.
#38. Lesser Goldfinch
- Spinus psaltria
- Adults are 3.5-4.7 in (9-12 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g)
- Males are bright yellow below with a glossy black cap, back, and wings. Also, look for white patches on the wings.
- Females and young males have olive backs, dull yellow underparts, and black wings marked by two whitish bars.
The Lesser Goldfinch is one of the smallest birds in California.
Despite their size, they’re territorial around food sources and wildflowers. For example, they’ve been known to chase away the larger birds to show dominance.
Look for these goldfinches gathered in large groups of up to several hundred individuals. You’ll see these flocks around feeding sites and water sources. They live in many habitats: near fields, farmlands, woodlands, desert oases, parks, and urban settings are all good places to spot the Lesser Goldfinch.
Lesser Goldfinch Range Map
Lesser Goldfinches are often found in the suburbs, where they’re common visitors to feeders. These small finches eat sunflower seeds, along with thin-hulled Nyjer seeds.
#39. Cactus Wren
- Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Cactus Wrens are common in the deserts of southeastern California. Look for a rather large brown bird with a long tail and long beak but short rounded wings. They are beautiful wrens with distinctive bright white eyebrows, brown spotted bellies, and a brown and white streaked back.
Cactus Wren Range Map
These birds are known for their energetic and bold personalities. If you spend enough time in their range, you are almost guaranteed to see them as they are always up to something. They can be found doing any number of things, such as singing from the top of a cactus, chasing each other around, mobbing predators that come too close, and fanning their tails.
Cactus Wrens are true desert birds and don’t need to drink water since they can obtain all their moisture from the insects, spiders, and fruit that they eat. It’s also common for them to take a dust bath on the dry, dusty ground before heading to their nightly roost.
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!