What kinds of birds can you find in San Diego, California?
Despite being a large city, I think you would be surprised at the number of species that you can find in downtown San Diego and the surrounding areas. Many types of birds can adapt to the presence of humans, even building nests and raising their babies in close proximity.
In addition, there are other parks and other green spaces that offer hiding spaces for shyer birds.
Below, you will learn the TEN most common birds that are found around San Diego!
#1. Western Gull
- Larus occidentalis
- Adults measure 22.1 to 26 inches in length and have a 47.2 to 56.7-inch wingspan.
- Breeding adults are white with black or dark gray backs, upper wings, and primary feathers.
- They have a yellow bill with a red mark near the tip, pale pink legs, and eyes that are olive-yellow to dark brown.
Western Gulls in San Diego live in coastal areas and rarely travel more than a few miles inland. Look for them in coastal waters, estuaries, and at sea, particularly between the shore and nesting islands. They will also visit landfills and open flat areas like parking lots near the shore.
In addition to the fish and shellfish many gulls eat, Western Gulls also forage at sea lion rookeries, feeding on dead pups and afterbirth. In offshore waters, they often follow groups of marine mammals such as dolphins, seals, and sea lions to locate prey sources.
Western Gulls mate for life and work together to build their nests. Both parents incubate the eggs. In very hot weather, the parents fly to water, soak their belly feathers, and then return to the nest to cool the eggs!
The oldest Western Gull recorded in the wild was 33 years and 11 months old. Even though they’re common within their range, they are of some concern because they’re susceptible to climate change, oil spills, and habitat degradation.
#2. Anna’s Hummingbird
- Calypte anna
How To Identify:
- Males: They are best known for their beautiful 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 Hummingbird Range Map
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 Hummingbirds have a distinctive song! (Press play below)
To help locate these hummingbirds, 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.
Personally, it’s hard to believe these noises are coming from a pretty little hummingbird!
- 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.
- In addition to nectar, these hummingbirds consume a wide variety of insects. Their favorites are smaller bugs, such as whiteflies, midges, and leafhoppers. They will even pluck insects off that are caught in spider webs!
- Anna’s Hummingbirds enjoy supplementing their diet with tree sap. When available, they will eat sugary sap that is leaking out of holes made by sapsuckers.
#3. Red-tailed Hawk
- Buteo jamaicensis
- Adults are 18-26 in (45-65 cm) tall with a wingspan of 43-55 in (110-140 cm).
- They are dark brown over the back and wings, with white feathers underneath and a reddish tail.
- Their beaks and legs are yellow.
Red-tailed Hawks are one of the most common birds of prey in San Diego!
These raptors are often seen on long drives in the countryside, soaring in the sky, or perched on a fence post. The color of a Red-tailed Hawk’s plumage can be anything from nearly white to virtually black, so coloration is not a reliable indicator. The best way to identify them is by looking for their characteristic red tail. 🙂
Red-tailed Hawk Range Map
These hawks are highly adaptable, and there is no real description of their preferred habitats because they seem to be comfortable everywhere. I have seen Red-tailed Hawks in numerous places, from the deep backcountry in Yellowstone National Park to urban cities to my own suburban backyard! Pick a habitat, such as pastures, parks, deserts, roadsides, rainforests, woodlands, fields, or scrublands, and you’ll find them thriving.
Red-tailed Hawks have impressive calls that are easily identified.
In fact, people are so enamored with their screams, it’s common for directors to use the sounds of a Red-tailed Hawk to replace Bald Eagles that appear in movies. In case you have never heard one, Bald Eagles don’t make sounds that live up to their appearance (putting it nicely!)
- Anas platyrhynchos
- Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black butt with a white-tipped tail.
- Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
- Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wing, which is most visible when they are standing or flying.
My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely one of the most recognizable birds in San Diego!
Mallard Range Map
Mallards are extremely comfortable around people, which is why these adaptable ducks are so widespread. They are found in virtually any wetland habitat, no matter where it’s located. We even find Mallards in our swimming pool every summer and have to chase them away, so they don’t make a mess on our deck! 🙂
Mallards readily accept artificial structures built for them by humans. If you have a nice pond or a marsh, feel free to put up a homemade nesting area to enjoy some adorable ducklings walking around your property! Just make sure you put up predator guards so predators can’t get to the eggs.
When you think of a duck quacking, it is almost inevitably a female Mallard. If there is a better duck sound, we haven’t heard it! Interestingly, males do not quack like females but instead make a raspy call.
#5. House Finch
- Haemorhous mexicanus
- 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.
House Finches are prevalent birds in San Diego 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.
#6. Snowy Egret
- A completely white, medium-sized heron with a black dagger-like bill.
- Black legs, but their feet are yellow.
- A yellow patch of skin beneath their eye.
Snowy Egret Range Map
These beautiful herons will often use their yellow feet to stir up water or mud to help them uncover hiding invertebrates, amphibians, or fish. Once their prey has been found, Snowy Egrets have no problem running their food down to finish the job!
Sibling rivalry with these birds can be intense, to say the least.
As you can see in the video above, the weakest hatchling is sometimes thrown out of the nest by its brothers and sisters! While this can be sad to see, this behavior ensures that the strongest babies get the most amount of food.
Interestingly, Snowy Egrets will breed with other heron species, such as other similarly sized birds like Tricolored Herons, Little Blue Herons, and Cattle Egrets. So if you see a heron that you can’t seem to identify, it may be a hybrid!
#7. Mourning Dove
- Zenaida macroura
- 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.
The Mourning Dove is the most common dove in San Diego.
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 San Diego. 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!)
#8. Brown Pelican
- Pelecanus occidentalis
- Large water bird with a very long bill and neck.
- Brown skin on their giant throat patch.
- Dark gray bodies with a white neck and pale yellow head.
It’s hard to mistake a Brown Pelican in San Diego since no other water bird looks quite like it!
Brown Pelican Range Map
When I’m visiting the beach, I love seeing the way that Brown Pelicans elegantly fly just over the water’s surface. While these water birds are common today, believe it or not, they almost went extinct in the mid 20th century due to DDT poisoning.
These seabirds are commonly seen along the coast as they plunge aggressively headfirst into the water. These dives are meant to stun the surrounding fish, which then are scooped up with their enormous throat pouch and swallowed whole.
Don’t bother listening for them, as Brown Pelicans are mostly silent creatures. You may hear loud popping sounds when they defend their nests, which is made from them snapping their bills together sharply.
#9. White-crowned Sparrow
- Zonotrichia leucophrys
- Both sexes can be grayish or brownish with a long tail.
- On their head, they can have black and white stripes 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 backyard, 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.
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 females on occasion will too. Their song lasts only a few seconds. Listen below.
#10. Lesser Goldfinch
- Spinus psaltria
- 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 San Diego.
But the crazy thing is they are pretty tough around food sources or wildflowers. For example, they’ve been known to chase away the larger Lawrence’s Goldfinches, to show dominance.
You’ll find them in weedy fields, farmlands, woodlands, desert oases, parks, and urban settings.
Look for these goldfinches gathered in large groups that can number up to several hundred individuals. You’ll see these flocks around feeding sites and water sources.
When flying, they have the same roller-coaster style flight as the American Goldfinch.
Lesser Goldfinch Range Map
Lesser Goldfinches are often found in the suburbs, where they are common visitors to feeders. These small finches eat sunflower seeds, along with the thin-hulled seeds of Nyjer/thistle.
The male’s song is a rapid medley of twittering notes, lasting up to 10 seconds.
Which of these birds have you seen before in San Diego?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds you may see in San Diego, check out my other guides!
25 Types of WATER BIRDS That Live in California (Ducks, herons, loons, etc.)
19 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!