18 Birds That Are GREEN in California! (2023)

Did you see a GREEN bird in California?

Types of green birds in California

I’m guessing you need help figuring out which species you saw with green feathers. Well, you’ve come to the right place! To help you make an identification, I have included several photographs of each species and detailed range maps.

In addition to birds that are green, I have also included olive-colored birds.

18 GREEN BIRDS IN California:


#1. Mallard

  • Anas platyrhynchos

Common California green birds

How to identify:

  • Males have a bright green head, thin white collar, dark reddish-brown chest, yellow bill, and a black rear with a white-tipped tail.
  • Females are mottled brown with orange and brown bills.
  • Both sexes have purple-blue secondary feathers on their wings, most visible when standing or flying.

My guess is that almost everyone is familiar with the Mallard. These ducks are definitely the most common green birds in California! But as you can see, only males are green.

Mallard Range Map

mallard duck 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, regardless of location. 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! 🙂

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.


#2. Rock Pigeon

  • Columba livia

Common green birds found in California

Rock Pigeons are extremely common in California but are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These birds are what everyone refers to as “pigeons.” You have probably seen them gathering in huge flocks in city parks, hoping to get tossed some birdseed or leftover food.

The typical pigeon has a gray back, a blue-grey head, and two black wing bars. In addition, look for a GREEN and purple iridescence around their necks!

Rock Pigeon Range Map

pigeon range map

Pigeons are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially if leftover food is on the ground. Unfortunately, these greenish birds can become a nuisance if they visit your backyard in high numbers. Many people find their presence overwhelming and look for ways to keep them away!

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. But, interestingly, scientists aren’t even sure where their original range occurs!


#3. American Wigeon

  • Mareca americana

Green birds of California

How to identify:

  • Compact ducks with round heads. Blue-gray bills that are tipped in black.
  • Males are mostly brown but have a distinctive green band behind their eyes and a white crown.
  • Females have brown bodies overall, with a grayer-colored head.

American Wigeons are numerous, but they prefer quiet lakes and marshes away from people.

Their diet consists of a higher proportion of plant matter than other ducks. They will even go to farm fields to feed, similar to geese. Their short bill provides a lot of power to help pluck vegetation easily!

American Wigeon Range Map

american wigeon range map

Since they can scare easily when approached, one of the best ways to see these green-headed birds in California is to listen for them!

Males give a 3-part nasal whistle (whew-whew-whew) any time of the year, which sounds like a kazoo (heard below)! Females don’t whistle, but they do produce a harsh grunt quack.


#4. Northern Shoveler

  • Spatula clypeata

Green birds of California

How to identify:

  • Males have reddish-brown flanks, green heads, a white chest, black backs, and yellow eyes.
  • Females are brown, and sometimes you can see a bluish shoulder patch.
  • Both sexes have distinctive bills, which are large and wide!

If you only glance at the male’s green head, casual observers in California might accidentally think these birds are Mallards. But if you look closer, you should notice their ENORMOUS spoon-shaped bill, which is what Northern Shovelers are known for.

Northern Shoveler Range Map

northern shoveler range map

Northern Shovelers use their large bill to shovel and sift through mud and sand to find tasty tidbits like crustaceans, mollusks, and aquatic insects that are buried. Interestingly, their bill has over 100 tiny projections on the edges called lamellae that help filter out the food they want to eat.

Males make a guttural “took-took” sound during courtship, when alarmed, and in flight. Females make a nasally-sounding quack.


#5. Green-winged Teal

  • Anas carolinensis

green birds

How to identify:

  • Males have chestnut-brown heads and a green ear patch.
  • Females have a dark eye-line and are mottled brown throughout.
  • Both sexes have a green patch on their wing, visible in flight and most of the time when resting.

Green-winged Teals are the smallest dabbling ducks in California. They are only 12-15 inches (31-39 cm) in length and weigh between 5 and 18 ounces (140-500 g).

Green-winged Teal Range Map

green winged teal range map

These birds often travel and hang out with other species. Look closely for the smallest duck in a mixed flock, and there is a good chance it’s a Green-winged Teal. Even females, which look similar to female Mallards, should stand out because they are noticeably smaller!

Males give a short, clear, repeated whistle, a unique sound for a duck if you ask me! Females often give a series of quacks at any time of the year.


#6. Wood Duck

  • Aix sponsa

green birds

How to identify:

  • Males have very intricate plumage. Look for the green crested head, red eyes, and chestnut breast with white dots.
  • Females have brown bodies with grayish heads, which are also slightly crested.

Walt Disney used to say that “the world is a carousel of color,” and few waterfowl have taken this more to heart than the male Wood Duck. It looks like an artist used every color to paint a duck with green, red, orange, lime, yellow, buff, rose, brown, tan, black, white, gray, purple, and blue.

Wood Duck Range Map

wood duck range map

This is one of the few duck species you may see in a tree! Wood Ducks use abandoned tree cavities for nesting but also readily take to elevated nesting boxes.

When hatchlings leave the nest for the first time, they often have to make a giant leap of faith (up to 50 feet) to the ground below! You have to watch the video below to believe it. 🙂

Interestingly, Wood Ducks are perfectly evolved for their life spent in trees. Their claws are powerful, which allows them to perch and grasp onto branches!


#7. Red-breasted Merganser

  • Mergus serrator

How to identify:

  • Slim ducks with long bodies and necks and a long, thin bill.
  • Breeding males have a dark green head with a spiky-looking crest. Cinnamon-colored chest and red eyes.
  • Females and non-breeding males are greyish-brown overall.

Red-breasted Mergansers breed in boreal forests across much of North America, where they can be found on many inland lakes. During winter, these sea ducks migrate south and spend most of their time just off the coast, although it’s possible to find them in just about any large, unfrozen body of water.

Red-breasted Merganser Range Map

red breasted merganser range map

Fish are their primary food source, and they must eat roughly 15-20 per day to supply their energy demands. It’s estimated they need to make about 250 dives per day to catch this amount of fish!

Sometimes they will help each other out, and individuals will work together to herd minnows to shallower water, which makes the fish easier to catch.

Did you know that birds that primarily eat fish typically taste horrible? Because of this, Red-breasted Mergansers, and the other merganser species found in California, are not usually hunted. It’s also why you don’t see anyone trying to eat a penguin!


#8. Common Merganser

  • Mergus merganser

common mergansers

How to identify:

  • A large duck with a long, slender orange bill with a black tip and dark eyes.
  • Breeding males have a largely white body, a black back, and a mallard-like green head.
  • Females and non-breeding males sport a cinnamon-colored head and a grayish-white body.

Due to their thin bill, these green-headed birds stand out in California. A Common Merganser’s favorite food is fish, which they catch with the help of their serrated bill. But they also indulge in aquatic invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks, insects, and worms.

Common Merganser Range Map

common merganser range map

Common Mergansers are so good at fishing that many other ducks try to steal from them when they surface. In fact, it’s common to see flocks of seagulls following them, hoping to snatch an easy meal. Even Bald Eagles have been known to rob them of their hard-earned fish!

Naturally, these ducks nest in tree cavities that woodpeckers have carved out. Interestingly, newborn ducklings are only about a day old when they leap from the entrance to the ground, at which point the mother will lead them to water, and they catch all their own food immediately.


#9. Green Heron

  • Butorides virescens

green heron

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Small heron with a long, dagger-like bill.
  • Their back is gray-green. The head and neck are chestnut-brown, except for the green-black cap on the head.
  • The neck is commonly drawn into their body.

This green bird is found in California in any wet habitat that includes lots of vegetation, which provides places for them to stay hidden. You will often see them foraging at dawn or dusk, as they prefer to keep out of sight most of the day.

Green Heron Range Map

green heron range map

Green Herons are ambush predators and mainly eat fish, waiting patiently for a small one to swim by so they can snap it up with their long bill. Watch them hunt in the video below:

Interestingly, these birds use tools to help them hunt! They will drop insects, feathers, or other items into the water, which entice small fish to come closer to investigate.


#10. MacGillivray’s Warbler

  • Geothlypis tolmiei

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Coloring is yellow to olive green on the body, with a blue-gray hood.
  • Males are brighter in color, with a black patch on the eye. Females lack the black patch and have a lighter gray hood.

Look for MacGillivray’s Warblers in dense vegetation near streambeds and second-growth forests. They prefer to stay close to the ground, where they forage for insects. These olive-green birds are easy to spot during migration, resting in dense thickets during the day.

Their cheerful call and bright patterned coloring make them a welcome sight. The MacGillivray’s Warbler song is trilling and high, with an inflection near the middle: “jeet jeet JEET jeet jeet.”


#11. Green-tailed Towhee

  • Pipilo chlorurus

Identifying characteristics:

  • Both sexes are small and stocky with big heads and long tails.
  • Oddly colored sparrow with gray body, rust orange crown, white throat, black mark by bill, olive-yellowish on wings, back, and tail.

Green-tailed Towhees prefer to live in shrubbery forests in California, giving them the best place to forage on the ground and be protected. They are hard to see in the dense foliage, but males can be found singing from the tops of shrubs.

Green-tailed Towhee Range Map

greentailed towhee range map

Green-tailed Towhees work hard to build their nest, but sometimes they use porcupine hairs inside the nests for added support, which is surprising and seems dangerous for the babies.

Only the males sing songs that are a few seconds long, with a mix of jumbled whistles and trill notes.

 


#12. Anna’s Hummingbird

  • Calypte anna

anna's hummingbirdHow To Identify:

  • Males: They are best known for their iridescent pinkish-red heads. The underparts are a mix between gray and green. The 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.

These tiny green birds are no larger than a ping-pong ball and weigh about the same as a nickel.

Anna’s Hummingbirds 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

To help locate these green birds in California, listen for a long song that often lasts ten seconds or more. The song starts with a series of buzzes, followed by a pleasant-sounding whistle. The entire sequence can last more than ten seconds and typically finishes with some chip notes.


#13. Lewis’s Woodpecker

  • Melanerpes lewis

Lewis’s Woodpeckers are incredibly unique when it comes to woodpeckers.

For example, here are a few attributes that these birds possess:

  • Lewis’s Woodpeckers look different and are bulkier than other species of woodpecker. Both males and females have a green back, pink body, gray collar, and a red face patch! I think it looks like Christmas decided to make a woodpecker! 🙂
  • It’s extremely rare to find these birds drilling into a tree looking for wood-boring insects. Instead, they catch insects in midair by waiting patiently from a perch, similar to flycatchers.
  • Lastly, Lewis’s Woodpeckers fly using slow, deep wingbeats and frequently glide, which resembles how a crow flies. Most other woodpecker species have more of a bounding flight pattern.

Lewis’s Woodpecker Range Map

Look for these nomadic green birds in California in open ponderosa pine forests, recently burned areas, oak woodlands, orchards, and pinyon-juniper woods.


#14. Black-chinned Hummingbird

  • Archilochus alexandri

black chinned hummingbird

How To Identify:

  • Males: A medium-sized hummingbird with a metallic green body, white breast, and greenish flanks. Their head appears black overall, but their crown is actually very dark green, and their lower throat is iridescent violet.
  • Females: Have a greenish-grey cap on their heads and a green back. There is a white spot behind their eyes, similar to the males. Females have a dark-spotted grey throat and a white breast.

I will never forget the first time I saw this hummingbird species. While on a camping trip in Zion National Park, I was taking an early morning walk when a male Black-chinned Hummingbird started feeding on the wildflowers in front of me! I still remember the purple, vibrant throat shining in the early morning sun. 🙂

Black-chinned Hummingbird Range Map

black chinned hummingbird range map

These small greenish birds breed in California during the summer months.

In winter, they migrate to the west coast of Mexico. This species is one of the most adaptable hummingbird species and is found in various habitats. Look for them in mountain and alpine meadows, canyons with thickets, orchards, urban areas, and recently disturbed areas.

Fun Facts:

  • Their eggs are about the size of a coffee bean!
  • When the weather is cold and lots of energy is needed to stay warm, these birds can drink up to THREE times their body weight in nectar. On the flip side, when insects are plentiful, they can survive without any nectar for stretches of time.

#15. Calliope Hummingbird

  • Selasphorus calliope

calliope hummingbird

How To Identify:

  • Males: These small birds are easy to identify because of their long, magenta throat feathers that appear as streaks going down their necks. Their head, upper parts, and flanks are metallic green. The breast is white. Males can be observed performing a unique U-shaped dive to impress females.
  • Females: They have small dark spots on their white throats instead of vibrant magenta throat feathers like the male. Their head and back are covered in a metallic green with a white, buffy breast.

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest green bird in California!

It’s under 4 in (10 cm) in length and weighs between 2 – 3 grams (0.071 to 0.106 oz), which is about the same weight as a ping-pong ball!

Calliope Hummingbird Range Map

calliope hummingbird range map

This species has an incredibly long migration route, especially considering its tiny size. The Calliope Hummingbird spends its winters in Mexico. But each spring, they make the long migration up the Pacific coast to their summer breeding grounds.

During fall migration, they return to Mexico by following the Rocky Mountains instead of heading back down the coast.

Even though they are tiny, Calliope Hummingbirds are known to be feisty during the breeding season. They have been observed chasing away birds as large as Red-tailed Hawks!


#16. Broad-tailed Hummingbird

  • Selasphorus platycercus

broad tailed hummingbirds

How To Identify:

  • Males: Adults have a white breast, buffy flanks, and green covering their head, back, and tail. Look for their iridescent red throat.
  • Females: Similar to other types of hummingbirds, females are larger than males. They have a lightly speckled throat, white upper breast, and a brownish belly. The head and back are green.

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are found in California in mountain meadows and open woodlands. They typically breed at elevations between 5,000 and 10,500 feet.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map

These small green birds only stay in California for a few months, from late May to early August.

Males put on impressive aerial displays to attract females. The show begins with the male climbing high into the sky and then diving toward the ground, pulling up right in front of the bird he is trying to attract. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are promiscuous and may mate with many individuals during a breeding season.

These green birds live up to 10,500 feet high in the mountains, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, even in summer. To survive these cold nights, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds enter what is called a state of torpor, where they slow their heart rate down and drop their body temperature until the sun comes up!


#17. Costa’s Hummingbird

  • Calypte costae

costa's hummingbird

How To Identify:

  • Males: Their large, iridescent purple gorget makes them easy to identify, as it covers their head, along with flaring out along the sides of their neck like an overgrown mustache.
  • Females: Females have a white throat, underparts, green back, and head. Look for white tips on the green tail feathers. Both sexes appear compact with a short tail.

These green birds have a limited range in California. Costa’s Hummingbirds are found in various habitats, including desert scrub, chaparral, sage scrub, and even in deciduous forests in their Mexico wintering grounds.

Costa’s Hummingbird Range Map

costa's hummingbird range map

Males have a spirited mating display used to attract females. They typically perform a series of dives and loops in front of the female in hopes of impressing her, and they even position themselves at the correct angle to the sun to show their violet plumage!

Researchers have found that Costa’s Hummingbirds must visit up to 1,800 flowers daily to obtain enough energy to sustain themselves.


#18. Violet-green Swallow

  • Tachycineta thalassina

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Sleek-looking birds with a slightly forked tail and long wings.
  • Greenish back with white cheeks and white underparts.
  • An iridescent purple or violet rump.

At first glance, these swallows appear dark. But once the sun hits their feathers, you can truly appreciate their beauty as their metallic green backs and purple behinds become visible.

Violet-green Swallow Range Map

violet green swallow range map

Your best chance at seeing these green birds in California is usually over open water.

Violet-green Swallows will fly over lakes, ponds, or rivers in the early mornings, hunting for insects. Since they tend to flock with other species of swifts and swallows, look for the birds with a white belly and cheeks.

Violet-green Swallows spend winters in Mexico and Central America and are only in North America during the breeding season.


Learn more about other birds in California!


What green birds in California have you seen?

Let us know in the comments!

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