17 Birds That Are YELLOW in California! (ID GUIDE)
Did you see a YELLOW bird in California?
I’m guessing you need some help figuring out which species you saw. Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Today, we will review 17 types of birds that are YELLOW in California.
To help you make an identification, I have included several photographs of each species and detailed range maps.*
#1. American Goldfinch
- Spinus tristis
- Adults are 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm) long and weigh 0.4-0.7 oz (11-20 g).
- In summer, males are a vivid yellow with a black cap and black wings. Females are a duller yellow without a black cap.
- Both sexes look the same in winter and turn a pale brown/olive color. They’re identified by their black wings and white wing bar.
These small yellow birds are prevalent in California.
American Goldfinch Range Map
American Goldfinches are one of the most commonly seen backyard birds. So if you have yellow birds in your backyard, it’s likely it was an American Goldfinch!
To attract these yellow birds, include bird feeders specially designed for goldfinches since they’re easily scared off by larger “bullies.” Goldfinches appreciate having places that only they can use! Interestingly, seeds from garden plants and bird feeders make up their entire diet since they’re strict vegetarians.
One of my favorite traits about these birds is that they can feed in any position, even upside down.
#2. Wilson’s Warbler
- Cardellina pusilla
- Adults are 3.9-4.7 in (10-12 cm) long and weigh 0.2-0.3 oz (6-8 g).
- Greenish and yellow coloring across the body, with gray-brown wings. Males have a black cap.
You’re most likely to spot Wilson’s Warblers when males are active and vocal during the spring migration. Their mating song is a clear, high “tsee-tsee-tsee-tsee” that increases in volume at the end.
The males of this species also have a unique feature that makes them easy to spot. Look for their distinct small and round black cap, resembling a toupee! Females may have dark spots or a greenish wash on their heads, but only the males have the black cap.
Unlike most yellow birds in California, Wilson’s Warblers are more comfortable on the ground or the forest understory. As a result, they’re easier to spot without craning your neck! They often nest on the ground, concealed in shrubs at forest edges.
#3. American Yellow Warbler
- Setophaga petechia
- Adults are 4.7-5.1 in (12-13 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g).
- Lemon-yellow across the whole body, with light chestnut streaks on the chest. Males are brighter than females.
These bright yellow birds are found all over California.
Look for American Yellow Warblers primarily in moist forests of small trees. Its particular favorite nesting habitat is willow groves.
American Yellow Warblers are frequent victims of brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds, that lay their eggs inside the nests of these warblers! But they have a unique way of combating this. They’re known to build a new nest directly on top of their old one, smothering their eggs in addition to the cowbirds’ eggs. As a result, researchers have found nests up to six layers deep!
With its bright yellow coloring and relatively large population, this is one yellow bird you shouldn’t have trouble finding.
#4. Yellow-Rumped Warbler
- Setophaga coronata
- Adults are 4.7-5.5 in (12-14 cm) long and weigh 0.4-0.5 oz (11-14 g).
- Gray, with white wing bars and black on the chest. Patches on the rump and under the wings are yellow.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are named for the bright yellow patch above their tails.
Two subspecies of this warbler exist in California. They are can be distinguished by their throat patch, which is yellow in Audubon’s Warblers and white in Myrtle Warblers.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are an active species known for catching insects in midair. They visit feeders with sunflower seeds, raisins, suet, and peanut butter during winter. They also eat winter berries.
Yellow-Rumped Warblers often search for food in trees but will venture to the ground to forage in leaf debris, and they’ve even been known to pick through seaweed in coastal areas!
#5. Nashville Warbler
- Leiothlypis ruficapilla
- Adults are 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm) long and weigh 0.2-0.5 oz (6-14 g).
- Their coloring is yellow below with gray upper parts and a white patch near the legs.
Nashville Warblers are easily identified by their gray hood, which is present in both males and females. These yellow birds have the interesting habit of using porcupine quills in their nest bedding. I can’t imagine they make a comfortable mattress!
Look for Nashville Warblers during migration, when they often travel in mixed flocks. Chickadees, titmice, and kinglets are all frequent traveling companions!
#6. Common Yellowthroat
- Geothlypis trichas
- Adults are 4.3-5.1 in (11-13 cm) long and weigh 0.3 oz (9-10 g).
- Males and females have distinctly different coloring; although both sexes are yellow and gray, males have a black mask on the eyes that sets them apart.
One look at a male Common Yellowthroat will tell you why this species is also called the “Yellow Bandit”! The male has a distinctive black mask that sets it apart from other yellow birds in California.
Like most warblers, Common Yellowthroats migrate at night during the fall. Nighttime migration helps them avoid predators and poor weather conditions like excessive heat and wind.
An advantage for bird enthusiasts is that these species are much easier to spot during migration while resting during the day! With patience, you might also catch a flock in migration at night, visible against a full moon.
#7. Evening Grosbeak
- Coccothraustes vespertinus
- Adults are 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm) long and weigh 1.9-2.6 oz (54-74 g).
- Both sexes have a large, thick, conical beak and are the size of an American Robin.
- Males are yellow and black with a prominent white patch on the wings and a bright yellow stripe over the eye.
- Females are mostly gray with white and black wings and a greenish-yellow tinge on their neck and sides.
Evening Grosbeaks are one of the most beautiful yellow birds in California!
Typically, Evening Grosbeaks are found in the northern coniferous forests, and in winter, they can be found pretty much anywhere in California as they search for food.
Evening Grosbeaks are known for their large and strong beak. They use their robust beaks to crack open shells that other birds cannot open.
Evening Grosbeak Range Map
This species will occasionally show up at feeders in California south of their normal winter range, which provides a treat for backyard birders. You can attract them with sunflower seeds placed onto a large platform feeder, allowing ample room for them to land and eat.
#8. Yellow-Breasted Chat
- Icteria virens
- Adults are 7.1 in (18 cm) long and weigh 0.8-1.1 oz (23-31 g).
- Olive-gray on the back with a bright yellow breast and white lower body.
- These yellow birds are larger and bulkier than most warblers, with an especially long tail and big head.
Yellow-Breasted Chats are easily identified by the white “spectacles” around their eyes.
These songbirds prefer living in the dense vegetation of thickets and brambles. You’re most likely to see or hear a Yellow-Breasted Chat in the spring since they’re silent and shy during the rest of the year.
Pay close attention to exposed perches on power lines and in trees to spot this yellow bird in California.
#9. Yellow-headed Blackbird
- Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus
- Adults are 8.3-10.2 in (21-26 cm) long and weigh 1.6-3.5 oz (45-99 g).
- Males are unmistakable and feature a bright yellow head and breast that contrasts against a black body. They also have distinct white wing patches.
- Females are brown overall. They can be identified from other blackbird species by looking for dull yellow plumage on their chest, face, and throat. You can also see faint white streaks extending down the breast if you look closely.
During the breeding season, look for Yellow-headed Blackbirds in wetlands, where they raise their young. Females build nests in reeds directly over the water, and males aggressively defend their territories from other males and predators.
Yellow-headed Blackbird Range Map
These birds often share the same habitat as Red-winged Blackbirds. However, Yellow-headed Blackbirds are typically dominant and get to choose the prime nesting locations.
During winter, look for these birds gathering in huge flocks that forage in farm fields and other agricultural areas for grains and weed seeds. These massive groups often consist of multiple blackbird species.
#10. Western Kingbird
- Tyrannus verticalis
- Adults are 7.9-9.4 in (20-24 cm) long and weigh 1.3-1.6 oz (37-45 g).
- Coloring remains uniform across sexes, ages, and breeding seasons.
- Ash gray on the head, throat, and chest with brown-gray wings. The belly is bright lemon-yellow. White vertical bars line the outer tail feathers.
Look for these yellow birds in California perching on power lines, fence posts, or tree branches.
Western Kingbirds are flycatchers, which means they catch and eat insects flying through the air! They sit on high perches, waiting for a tasty insect to fly by. Then, they take flight and gobble up their meal, returning to the same perch to start the process over again.
Their unmistakable gray and yellow coloring is hard to miss!
#11. MacGillivray’s Warbler
- Geothlypis tolmiei
- Adults are 3.9-5.9 in (10-15 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.5 oz (9-14 g).
- 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.
They move in sudden, bursting hops along the forest floor. MacGillivray’s Warblers aren’t the most agile birds you’ll see!
These yellow 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 on a hike.
#12. Western Meadowlark
- Sturnella neglecta
- Adults are 6.3-10.2 in (16-26 cm) long and weigh 3.1-4.1 oz (88-116 g).
- The black, brown, and white coloring on their backs is used as camouflage while they forage on the ground.
- A yellow belly and throat with a distinctive black V on the chest make this yellow bird easy to identify from above.
Western Meadowlarks frequent meadows, grasslands, roadsides, and marshes. During winter, they sometimes join mixed flocks of other blackbirds. So if you see a flash of pale yellow or light brown in a crowd of starlings, it may be a Western Meadowlark!
Although they look nearly identical to Eastern Meadowlarks, they rarely cross-breed. Therefore, the easiest way to differentiate these two yellow birds in California is by location. Their ranges seldom overlap, but where they can both be found, Eastern and Western Meadowlarks will fight over territory.
#13. Western Tanager
- Piranga ludoviciana
- Adults are 6.3-7.5 in (16-19 cm) long and weigh 0.8-1.3 oz (23-37 g).
- Males are bright yellow with black wings and an orange-red head.
- Females are dusty yellow-green with gray wings.
Western Tanagers can be hard to spot because they spend much of their time in the upper canopy of open forests. However, if you see one of these yellow birds in California, you can identify a male by its fiery coloring. The orange-red head, yellow body, and black wings bear a striking resemblance to a burning fire.
Females are more understated, with a greenish-yellow body and gray wings. Although they rarely eat seeds, you may have luck attracting Western Tanagers to your backyard with dried cherries and cut oranges.
#14. Scott’s Oriole
- Icterus parisorum
- Adults are 9.1 in (23 cm) long and weigh 1.1-1.4 oz (31-40 g).
- Males have a black hood that contrasts sharply with their yellow bodies. In addition, white wing bars on the black wings create a striped look.
- Females are also yellow but lack the black hood and instead have a grayish head and wings.
You can find these beautiful yellow birds in southern California both in the mountains and down in the desert. Scott’s Orioles forage and nest in palms, junipers, pinyon pines, and especially yuccas, where nectar, insects, and nesting material are gathered.
Scott’s Oriole Range Map
Interestingly, Scott’s Orioles are one of the few birds that will eat a Monarch Butterfly. Most species avoid eating these butterflies because they taste bad, resulting from the milkweed plants they consume. These birds avoid the foul taste by only eating the abdomens of the less potent butterflies.
#15. Townsend’s Warbler
- Setophaga townsendi
- Adults are 4.7-5.0 in (12-12.7 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g).
- Black, white, and yellow coloring on both males and females. Their cheek patch is black in males and dark olive in females.
This species is one of the most striking yellow birds in California!
Look for Townsend’s Warblers in mature conifer woods with brushy undergrowth. During the fall migration and over winter, you may attract them to your feeders when the temperature is below freezing. Offer high-energy foods like suet, peanut butter, and mealworms.
#16. Lesser Goldfinch
- Spinus psaltria
- Adults are 3.5-4.7 in (9-12 cm) long and weigh 0.3-0.4 oz (9-11 g)
- 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 yellow birds in California.
Despite their size, they’re territorial around food sources and wildflowers. For example, they’ve been known to chase away the larger Lawrence’s Goldfinch to show dominance.
Look for these goldfinches gathered in large groups of up to several hundred individuals. You’ll see these flocks around feeding sites and water sources. They live in many habitats: near fields, farmlands, woodlands, desert oases, parks, and urban settings are all good places to spot the Lesser Goldfinch.
Lesser Goldfinch Range Map
Lesser Goldfinches are often found in the suburbs, where they’re common visitors to feeders. These small finches eat sunflower seeds, along with thin-hulled Nyjer seeds.
#17. Lawrence’s Goldfinch
- Spinus lawrencei
- Adults are about 4.7 in (12 cm) long and weigh about 0.4 oz (11 g)
- Males are primarily gray with yellow on the breast, upper belly, wings, and back. Their chin, face, and crown of the head are black.
- Females are similar but have brown above, with no black on the face and less yellow in the plumage.
This yellow bird is hard to spot in California.
Interestingly, Lawrence’s Goldfinches live in extremely arid regions. As a result, these goldfinches move around constantly, looking for scarce food and water. Their remote territory and constant movement make seeing them a treat.
Lawrence’s Goldfinch Range Map
Although they spend most of their time in the desert, they’re sometimes attracted to backyard feeders. Use finch feeders filled with Nyjer or shelled sunflower seeds to entice Lawrence’s Goldfinches.
What types of yellow birds in California have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!
*The maps are generously provided with permission from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I visit this site often to learn even more about interesting species!