Did you recently see a mystery GREY bird in California?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to figure out how to identify the species correctly!
Well, you are in the right place. Below, you will learn about the types of GREY birds found in California. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
The list below focuses on the most COMMON grey birds, many of which are often seen visiting bird feeders. I did not include any birds of prey or water birds. If you need help with either of these types of birds, then check out the following articles:
10 Types of Grey Birds Found in California:
#1. White-breasted Nuthatch
- Sitta carolinensis
- 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 gray back.
White-breasted Nuthatch Range Map
Look for these grey 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.
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)
#2. 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.
This grey bird is one of the most familiar 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, 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 seeds. They are probably most comfortable feeding on the ground, so make sure to throw a bunch of food there.
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 above!)
#3. Eurasian Collared-Dove
- Streptopelia decaocto
- A mostly sandy gray bird with a long, square-tipped tail.
- As the name suggests, look for a black collar on the back of the neck.
Interestingly, these grey birds are invasive to California.
Unfortunately, somebody introduced Eurasian Collared-Doves to the Bahamas in the 1970s, and since then, they have rapidly spread. In fact, their population is still spreading!
Eurasian Collared-Dove Range Map
One of the reasons these grey birds colonized here so quickly is due to their comfort level with humans. They have thrived being around bird feeders and in urban and suburban areas. It’s common to see them on the ground or platform feeders eating grains and seeds.
How do you tell them apart from Mourning Doves?
At first glance, Eurasian Collared-Doves look very similar to Mourning Doves. Here’s how to tell them apart:
- Mourning Doves are smaller and have black dots on their wings.
- Eurasian Collared-Doves are larger and have a black crescent around their neck.
#4. Mountain Chickadee
- Poecile gambeli
As the name suggests, if you want to find one of these small grey birds in California, you will need to head to the mountains! Mountain Chickadees have black heads and distinctive white eyebrows, making them fairly easy to identify.
Mountain Chickadee Range Map
Like other chickadee species, these birds are agile and curious. They are most often seen flitting from tree to tree in coniferous forests, searching for insects, spiders, seeds, and nuts.
Do you have a house in the mountains? If so, you should easily be able to attract Mountain Chickadees! Try setting up a feeding station filled with sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet.
#5. Northern Mockingbird
- Mimus polyglottos
- Medium-sized grey songbird with a LONG, slender tail.
- Distinctive white wing patches that are visible when in flight.
These grey birds are NOT easy to miss 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. 🙂
Northern Mockingbird Range Map
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.
These grey 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 feeders, even though mockingbirds don’t even eat from feeders themselves!
- 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 grey birds in California, you can be confident there are many more around! These social birds typically travel in flocks between 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! 🙂
#7. Canada Jay / Gray Jay
- Perisoreus canadensis
- Paler grey on the belly. Darker gray on the backs.
- White cheeks, throat, and forehead.
- Short beak and a long tail.
It’s hard to describe a Canada Jay other than “cute.” These grey birds are really smart and adapt to their surroundings, which allows them to eat almost anything.
Seriously, they have been observed eating the following weird things: ticks off the back of a moose, baby bats, amphibians, baby birds, in addition to more normal foods like invertebrates, seeds, and berries.
Canada Jay Range Map
Another interesting fact about this grey bird is that they raise their babies during late winter! And because they live so far north in the boreal forests, their chicks grow up in almost complete darkness. Interestingly, they don’t attempt to raise a second brood of babies in May or June, which is when most other species nest and conditions seem more favorable.
So do you call this bird a Canada Jay or Gray Jay? Well, the correct name is now Canada Jay, as the name was changed in 2018 by the American Ornithological Society from the Gray Jay. But old habits die hard, and many birders still refer to this bold corvid as a Gray Jay.
#8. Clark’s Nutcracker
- Nucifraga columbiana
- Medium-sized grey bird with a long, dagger-like black bill and black wings.
- While in flight, you can see bright white tail feathers, along with white feathers at the end of their wings.
It’s fairly easy to spot one of these grey birds in California, as long as you head to the correct habitat. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, as Clark’s Nutcrackers live in coniferous forests in the mountains!
Their long beak is used to rip into pinecones to remove the seeds, which are mostly taken away to store and consume later. It’s estimated that Clark’s Nutcrackers stash away thousands of seeds each summer, which provides them food through winter. Amazingly, these intelligent grey birds remember where most of the pine seeds are hidden!
Clark’s Nutcracker Range Map
In fact, they hide so much food they are able to breed as early as January or February and rely ONLY on their cached food supply. As you can imagine, it is incredibly cold high up in the mountains during this time of year, so nothing is growing nor moving much.
#9. Loggerhead Shrike
- Lanius ludovicianus
- Grey songbird with a black mask that appears chunky.
- Black wings. Prominent white flashes appear during flight.
- Look for their distinctive hooked bill.
Don’t let their small size fool you.
These grey birds are lethal predators in California!
Loggerhead Shrikes eat a variety of prey items, including birds, insects, lizards, and small mammals. They are typically found in grasslands, where they hunt by perching themselves on a fence, utility post, or another prominent perch.
Loggerhead Shrike Range Map
They have even adapted to hunting food that is poisonous to other species. A Monarch Butterfly is a great example, which is toxic to most animals due to the milkweed it consumes. But Loggerhead Shrikes don’t care. They will impale the butterfly, then let it sit for a few days before consuming it, which provides time for the poisons to break down!
- RELATED: 17 Ways to Attract MORE Butterflies!
#10. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Polioptila caerulea
- A tiny bird that appears gray from a distance. Up close, it has a bluish tint.
- Black wings with a black tail that has outer white tail feathers.
- Breeding males have a black “V” on their foreheads.
Because of their small size, the easiest way to see one of these grey birds in California might be to listen for it! Keep your ears open for a thin, musical warble. In addition, they have a call note that sounds like a nasally, whining “pzzzzz.”
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Range Map
Interestingly, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s breeding range keeps expanding northward. Since records have been kept, they have shifted about 200 miles, consistent with increasing temperatures.
Believe it or not, even though these birds eat lots of small insects and invertebrates, they don’t really eat that many gnats. 🙂
Did you find the grey bird you were looking for?
If not, you may want to purchase a field guide dedicated to bird identification (see link below). In this post, I focused on the most COMMON grey birds found in California.
Which of these GREY birds have you seen in California?
Leave a COMMENT below! Make sure to mention where the grey bird was seen. 🙂