What kinds of birds can you find in San Francisco, California?
Despite being a large city, I think you would be surprised at the number of species that you can find in downtown San Francisco 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 Francisco!
#1. 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.
#2. 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 Francisco 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.
#. Great Blue Heron
- Ardea herodias
- A very tall and large bird, with a long neck and a wide black stripe over their eye.
- As the name suggests, they are a grayish-blue color.
- Long feather plumes on their head, neck, and back.
Great Blue Heron Range Map
Great Blue Herons are typically seen in San Francisco along the edges of rivers, lakes, and wetlands.
Most of the time, they will either be motionless or moving very slowly through the water, looking for their prey. But watch them closely because when an opportunity presents itself, these herons will strike quickly and ferociously to grab something to eat. Common foods include fish, frogs, reptiles, small mammals, and even other birds.
Great Blue Herons appear majestic in flight, and once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to spot them. Watch the skies for a LARGE bird that folds its neck into an “S” shape and has its legs trailing straight behind.
Believe it or not, Great Blue Herons mostly build their nests, which are made out of sticks, very high up in trees. In addition, they almost always nest in large colonies that can include up to 500 different breeding pairs. And unbelievably, almost all of the breeding pairs nest in the same few trees!
When disturbed, these large birds make a loud “kraak” or “fraunk” sound, which can also be heard when in flight. Listen below!
#4. 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 Francisco!
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!)
#5. 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.
- 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 Francisco!
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.
#7. American Robin
- Turdus migratorius
- 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 San Francisco!
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.”
#8. Red-shouldered Hawk
- Buteo lineatus
- Adults are 15-19 in (38-48 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 38-42 in (96-107 cm).
- They have ruddy-brown shoulders and undersides, with black and white striped plumage on their wings and tails.
- Their eyes are black, and their beaks and feet are bright yellow.
Distinctly marked, Red-shouldered Hawks have a barred rufous chest, mostly white underwings, a strongly banded tail, and of course, red shoulders that are visible when perched.
Red-shouldered Hawk Range Map
While Red-tailed Hawks own large open areas, Red-shouldered Hawks are primarily forest dwellers. Their favorite places are woods with an open upper canopy since this extra space allows them to hunt more efficiently. These birds of prey in San Francisco are also common in suburban areas where houses have been mixed into woodlands.
Watch a Red-shouldered Hawk hunting in my backyard!
When hunting, these raptors drop onto their prey directly from overhead, making their hunting style unique. You can see this behavior perfectly above, as a Red-shouldered Hawk tries to catch a squirrel in my backyard! (Don’t worry, the hawk is unsuccessful.)
It’s common to hear a Red-shouldered Hawk before you see one. Listen for a loud call that sounds like “kee-ahh,” which is often repeated several times.
#9. Brewer’s Blackbird
- Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Males are completely glossy black with bright yellow eyes. If they are in the sun, you may see hints of blue, purple, and metallic green reflecting off their plumage.
- Females are plain brown with pale or brown eyes. They are dark brown on the wings and tail. They DO NOT have streaking, which differentiates them from female Red-winged Blackbirds.
Brewer’s Blackbird Range Map
Look for Brewer’s Blackbirds in the western United States in a variety of habitats, such as marshes, forests, meadows, and grasslands. These birds also adapt incredibly well to the presence of humans and are common in backyards, golf courses, parks, and agricultural areas.
Brewer’s Blackbirds are social birds. For example, they nest in colonies of up to 100 pairs of birds. Having that many eyes together helps watch out for and defend against predators.
After the breeding season is over, huge flocks come together to travel and search for food in grasslands and farm fields. It’s common to see mixed flocks that also include cowbirds, starlings, grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds.
Listen for a metallic, creaky “ke-see” song, which lasts a bit less than a second. Brewer’s Blackbirds are vocal, and there are a few contact (“tschup“) and alarm (“chuck“) calls you may hear that they use to communicate with each other.
#10. California Scrub-Jay
- Aphelocoma californica
- Medium-sized crestless jay.
- Both sexes have blue heads, wings, and tails.
- Look for a white throat outlined with a blue necklace.
These corvids are found in the western United States in scrubland and oak woodlands.
California Scrub-Jay Range Map
California Scrub-Jays primarily eat grains, fruits, frogs, lizards, and, unfortunately, eggs and young of other birds.
You also might see them standing on the backs of Mule Deer eating ticks! The deer seem to appreciate the help, as they often stand still and hold up their ears to let the birds do their work. 🙂
You can attract California Scrub-Jays to your feeders 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.
Which of these birds have you seen before in San Francisco?
Leave a comment below!
To learn more about other birds you may see in San Francisco, 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!