Did you recently see a mystery PURPLE bird in California?
If so, I’m guessing you are trying to identify the species correctly!
Well, you’re in the right place. Below, you will learn about the different PURPLE birds in California. I’ve included high-quality pictures and range maps to help you!
Fortunately, many of the purple birds listed below visit bird feeders, so you have a great chance of attracting them to your yard. If you’re incredibly fortunate, you may even see one at my bird feeding station right now! I have a LIVE high-definition camera watching my bird feeders 24/7. 🙂
12 PURPLE birds that live in California:
*Please note that purple is not a common color for birds. As you will see, many birds below only have a patch of purple feathers. In addition, some of the species have iridescent feathers, which means they ONLY appear purple when the sun is shining on them.*
#1. European Starling
- Sturnus vulgaris
- A common purple bird in California. Their plumage appears shiny in the sun, which is when you see the purple sheen.
- 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 purplish birds are an invasive species and aren’t supposed to be in California?
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 native birds. Their ability to adapt to human development and eat almost anything is uncanny to almost no other species.
European Starling Range Map
When starlings visit in small numbers, they are fun to watch and have beautiful plumage. But unfortunately, these aggressive birds can ruin a party quickly when they visit in massive flocks, chasing away all the other birds while eating your expensive bird food. To keep these blackbirds away from your bird feeders, you must take extreme action and implement “anti-starling” strategies.
#2. Rock Pigeon
- Columba livia
Rock Pigeons are extremely common in California, but they are almost exclusively found in urban areas. These birds are what everyone refers to as a “pigeon.” 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 purple iridescence around their necks!
Rock Pigeon Range Map
Pigeons are easily attracted to bird feeders, especially if leftover food is on the ground. Unfortunately, these purplish 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. Purple Finch
- Haemorhous purpureus
- Small, with a conical seed-eating bill.
- Males have a raspberry to purple head, breast, and back.
- Females have prominent streaks of white and brown below, with strong facial markings, including a whitish eyebrow and a dark line down the side of the throat.
Male Purple Finches are beautiful and look like they were dipped in raspberry juice.
Purple Finches use their big beaks and tongues to crush seeds and extract the nut. Your best chance to attract them to bird feeders is using black-oil sunflower seeds. Having conifer trees in your yard is also a great way to encourage these finches to visit.
Purple Finch Range Map
Purple Finches can be challenging to identify because they look similar to the more common House Finch. I’ve made this mistake many times, believing that I saw a Purple Finch when it was, in fact, just another House Finch. To tell them apart, look at their back. The Purple Finch’s back has red coloring, while the back of a House Finch has none.
#4. Purple Martin
- Progne subis
- Broad-chested swallows with long tapered wings and a forked tail. Slightly hooked bill.
- Adult males are dark and iridescent. They appear blue and purple in the sun.
- Females are duller with gray plumage on their heads and chests.
Purple Martins are incredible flyers! These swallows perform impressive aerial acrobatics when chasing their favorite prey, which are flying insects. Look for them mostly in open areas around water.
One interesting thing about Purple Martins is they breed in colonies in artificial nest boxes. In fact, throughout most of eastern North America, they rely solely on artificial cavities. But out west, Purple Martins still primarily use woodpecker holes for nesting. Interestingly, even before European settlers arrived, Native Americans used to hang up empty gourds for them!
Purple Martin Range Map
Unfortunately, Purple Martins face challenges for nesting sites from European Starlings and House Sparrows, which are both invasive to California. These introduced species often kill hatchlings and eggs and take over the nesting location. Therefore, if you are considering putting up nest boxes for Purple Martins, you must be diligent in protecting them!
These bluish-purple birds are only in California during the breeding season. Then, towards the end of summer, Purple Martins gather and roost together in HUGE numbers as they prepare to migrate back to South America. The flocks are so big they show up on the weather radar! Press PLAY below to a video I made that shows thousands of Purple Martins together.
#5. Brewer’s Blackbird
- Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Males are completely glossy black with bright yellow eyes. However, you may see hints of blue, purple, and metallic green reflecting off their plumage if they are in the sun.
- 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.
Look for Brewer’s Blackbirds in California in various 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 Blackbird Range Map
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, huge flocks come together to travel and search for food in grasslands and farm fields. It’s common to see mixed flocks that include cowbirds, starlings, grackles, and Red-winged Blackbirds.
#6. Violet-green Swallow
- Tachycineta thalassina
- 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.
Your best chance at seeing these green and purple 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 Swallow Range Map
Violet-green Swallows spend winters in Mexico and Central America and are only in North America during the breeding season. If your house sits on land with open woodlands near a water source, it’s entirely possible to have these birds raise their young in your yard. The best way to attract a nesting pair is to hang up nesting boxes 9-15 feet above the ground.
#7. Great-tailed Grackle
- Quiscalus mexicanus
- These blackbirds are fairly large, slender, and have long legs,
- Males are iridescent and shine purple and blue in the sunlight. 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 blackbirds that are often found in large flocks. It’s common to see them living near people at parks, farms, landfills, or neighborhood backyards. Naturally, they live in open forests, marshes, and scrub.
Their range has spread over the past century because of their fondness for agricultural 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 phenomenon happens for two reasons.
- Females have a higher survival rate in the nest since they are smaller and require less food.
- On average, females live longer than males.
#8: Black-chinned Hummingbird
- Archilochus alexandri
- Males (picture above): A metallic green body with a 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. You typically can’t see the strip of purple unless the light hits it just right.
- Females: 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 took an early morning walk when a male Black-chinned Hummingbird started feeding on the wildflowers in front of me! I still remember the vibrant purple throat shining in the early morning sun. 🙂
Black-chinned Hummingbird Range Map
Black-chinned Hummingbirds breed in California during the summer months. In winter, they migrate to the west coasts 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.
#9. Calliope Hummingbird
- Selasphorus calliope
- Males: Look for their long, magenta purple throat feathers that appear as streaks going down their neck. Their head, upperparts, and flanks are metallic green.
- Females: They have small dark spots on their white throat instead of the 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 bird in California! It’s under four inches 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!
This hummingbird species has an incredibly long migration route, especially considering their tiny size. The Calliope spends its winters in Mexico. But each spring, they make the long migration up the Pacific coast to their summer breeding grounds. Then, during fall migration, they return to Mexico by following the Rocky Mountains instead of heading back down the coast.
Calliope Hummingbird Range Map
Male Calliope Hummingbirds are known for their impressive U-shaped dives, which are used to attract females. During the display, they will fly as high as 100 feet in the air, dive until they almost hit the ground, and then rise back up to repeat the process.
#10. Little Blue Heron
- Egretta caerulea
- Adults: Have a slate-gray body and a purple-maroon head and neck.
- Juveniles: During their first year, these herons are completely white!
- Look for a two-toned bill, regardless of the bird’s age, which is gray with a black tip.
These purple birds are found in shallow wetlands in southern California. They are patient hunters and will stay motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to pass by them. While waiting, Little Blue Herons keep their daggerlike bill pointed downwards to be prepared for when a fish, amphibian, insect, or crustacean appears.
Little Blue Heron Range Map
Interestingly, juvenile Little Blue Herons are completely WHITE and look entirely different than adults! It’s thought that these birds adapted this white plumage so they can be tolerated by Snowy Egrets, which catch more fish. Hanging out with large flocks of white herons also helps avoid predators. 🙂
#11. Band-tailed Pigeon
- Patagioenas fasciata
- A large dove with grayish wings and back. Underparts are purple-gray.
- Look for a white bar on the back of their neck, which sits above a patch of greenish iridescent feathers. This feature should help you distinguish this dove from a Rock Pigeon.
If you see one Band-tailed Pigeon, you should expect to see many more! This is because these doves spend most of their time traveling in large groups, which can include hundreds of birds.
Naturally, look for these purple doves in California in mature coniferous or mixed forests. But they have adapted well to people and can be found in wooded suburban areas visiting backyard bird feeders. In addition to seeds, these doves also eat a lot of berries and fruit!
Band-tailed Pigeon Range Map
Band-tailed Pigeons can be hard to see since they spend much of their time at the tops of large trees. You may have more luck listening for them while walking through the woods.
#12. Costa’s Hummingbird
- Calypte costae
- Males: Their large, iridescent purple gorget makes them easy to identify, as it covers their head, flaring out along the sides of their neck like an overgrown mustache.
- Females: Females have a white throat, underparts, and a green back and head.
Costa’s Hummingbirds have a limited range in California. They are found in various habitats, including desert scrub, chaparral, sage scrub, and even in deciduous forests in their Mexico wintering grounds.
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!
Costa’s Hummingbird Range Map
- Researchers have found that Costa’s Hummingbirds need to visit up to 1,800 flowers daily to obtain enough energy to sustain themselves.
- Costa’s Hummingbirds are shyer than other larger species of hummingbirds. To attract them to your yard, try offering multiple feeders to give them a place to feed away from the more aggressive hummingbirds.
Which of these PURPLE birds have you seen before in California?
Leave a COMMENT below. Make sure you tell us WHERE you saw the bird. 🙂