Birds In California: Plenty Of Opportunities Of Bird Watchers

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California is one of the largest of the Lower-48 states. From surfing to hiking, from the coast to the central mountains, there are tons of activities to enjoy in the Golden State. However, if you’re into bird watching, California is one of the best places to enjoy your hobby, especially during breeding season!

According to the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC), there are up to 676 different recorded species of birds all over the state presenting plenty of opportunities for bird watchers.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this wide variety of birds, keep on reading! Today, we’ll walk you through some of the most interesting birds in California. From common feeder birds to a couple of birds that will dazzle you, there is something for everyone. So toss aside that basic bird checklist and get out your bird encyclopedia! We’re going to check out a sampling of the birds in California!

Red Birds in California

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Buteo lineatus
  • Length: 16. 8 to 24.1 in
  • Weight: 1.0 to 1.7 lbs
  • Wingspan: 36.9 to 43.7 in

Red-shouldered hawks are year-round residents of California as well as the neighboring states.

They’re known for having a colorful body, including warm reddish-brown to orange-red bars on their chest and wings checkered with black and white. They also have a black tail with several white markings. 

Since they feed mainly on mammals, amphibians, and reptiles, it’s quite easy to spot them around swamps, rivers, and wooded areas where their prey lives. 

House Finch

House Finch

  • Scientific Name: Haemorhous mexicanus
  • Length: 4.9 to 6.1 in
  • Weight: 0.6 to 0.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 8.1 to 10.5 in

The House finch is one of the most common bird species you will find hovering around your backyard and bird feeders.

What makes the house finch impressive is their rosy red color that covers their breasts and faces. Only breeding males have these attractive colors, and they’re highly dependent on the quality of their diet. 

So, make sure that you provide them with color-rich foods, such as weed seeds and small berries.

Red-Breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker

  • Scientific Name: Sphyrapicus ruber
  • Length: 7.9 to 8.7 in
  • Weight: 1.9 to 2.2 oz 
  • Wingspan: 14.6 to 16.0 in 

The red-breasted sapsucker belongs to the woodpecker family. As the name suggests, these birds are known for banging on hemlock and spruce trees in the forest during summer to feed on the sap.

In winter, the best places to spot them on a bird watching outing are in coniferous forests and around deciduous trees, such as aspen.

In addition to their continuous banging, you can identify these birds from their red plumage on their heads and the white spot on top of their eyes. They also have black wings and pale breasts with heavy black markings.

Painted Redstart

  • Scientific Name: Myioborus pictus
  • Length: 5.1 to 5.9 in
  • Weight: 0.3 to 0.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 8.1 to 8.4 in 

The Painted Redstart is one of the most beautiful warblers in the state and you’ll consider yourself lucky to add them to your life list while in California.

The small songbird is unmistakable due to its unique flaming red breast and bellies. They also have black plumage on their heads, backs, and tails along with characteristic white markings on their wings. 

They’re usually found in canyons as well as oak and pine forests in mountainous areas.

Blue Birds in California

California Scrub-Jay

California Scrub-Jay

  • Scientific name: Aphelocoma californica
  • Length: 11.0 to 11.8 in 
  • Weight: 2.5 to 3.5 oz 
  • Wingspan: 15.0 to 15.5 in

Despite the name, the California Scrub-jay isn’t a species exclusive to California. In fact, the bird is native to the entire Western United States. However, in other states, they’re often called the “Western Scrub-Jay”.

One of the most impressive things about this bird is its color. It’s one of the most common and easiest to spot blue-colored birds you’ll find in California. They’re medium-sized birds and have blue on their heads, wings, and tails. They’re identified from other blue-colored birds by their long tails and small bills.

Blue-Footed Booby

Blue-Footed Booby

  • Scientific Name: Sula nebouxii
  • Length: 31.5 to 32.2 in
  • Weight: 52.9 to 77.6 oz 
  • Wingspan: 62.0 to 62.3 in 

The blue-footed booby has recently started increasing in numbers across California, with more and more bird sightings reported in a variety of regions around the state, specifically in southern California during summer.

The bird has a unique shape and very characteristic and brilliantly colored sky blue legs, so you won’t have trouble identifying this comical bird if you ever come across one.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

  • Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
  • Length: 6.7 to 7.5 in
  • Weight: 0.56 to 0.78 oz
  • Wingspan: 12.6 to 13.6 in

Barn Swallows are quite common in California. They’re the most widespread swallow in all of North America and around the world, so you won’t have a hard time finding one.

You can also identify them by their plumage. They have steely blue feathers that cover the majority of the bird, including the back, head, tail, and wings.

This small bird likes to perch on telephone wires. They also feed on ants, insects, cracked eggshells, and beetles, which means they are commonly spotted in open fields and meadows.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

  • Scientific Name: Sialia mexicana
  • Length: 6.3 to 7.5 in
  • Weight: 0.8 to 1.1 oz 
  • Wingspan: 11.4 to 13.4 in

Bluebirds are widely spread all over the United States and North America. The most common one in California is the Western Bluebird.

Adult Western Bluebirds are characterized by the vivid blue color on their head and wings as well as the rust-orange color that runs from the breasts to their shoulders like a vest.

Female birds, however, are less attractive, with a pale orange wash on the chest and pale blue tints around wings and tails. However, the majority of their body is greyish or buff-colored.

Green Birds in California

Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

  • Scientific Name: Calypte anna
  • Length: 3.4 to 4.0 in
  • Weight: 0.1 to 0.2 oz 
  • Wingspan: 4.5 to 4.8

Anna’s Hummingbird is one of the most common hummingbirds in California and is a year-round resident around the coastal regions in the south.

Like other chaparral birds they’re mainly drawn to the desert habitat, they can still wander around backyards, gardens, and parks looking for nectar in flowers.

Like most nectar-seeking birds and insects, you can easily attract them using hummingbird feeders. They have an iridescent green body with a mesmerizing pink plumage around their faces. They are one of the most beautiful backyard feeder birds in the state.

Violet-Green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

  • Scientific name: Tachycineta thalassina
  • Length: 4.5 to 5.0 in 
  • Weight: 0.4 to 0.6 oz 
  • Wingspan: 10.1 to 11.0 in 

In addition to the Barn Swallow, the Violet-green Swallow is also pretty common in California. However, their color and flying style is anything but common!

The acrobatic bird has dark green plumage that covers its back and top of its head, contrasted by its clean white face, chest, and belly.

One reason they’re easy to find is that they live in large groups and often forage for flying insects above bodies of water when they’re not perching on trees and telephone poles.

Red-Crowned Parrot 

Red-crowned Parrot 

  • Scientific Name: Amazona viridigenalis
  • Length: 11.0 to 13.0 inches
  • Weight: 9.4 to 9.7 oz
  • Wingspan: 15.1 to 16.5 in

These beloved birds are native to certain parts of Central America. However, the metropolitan area of Los Angeles has a large population of feral parrots that escaped captivity and became a part of the ecosystem in the late ’60s.

You can find these parrots in various places. However, the birding hotspot of San Gabriel Valley is where most birders start their search.

The Red-crowned Parrot is mostly green in color, with green plumage covering their entire body head to toe except for the very small red patch in front of their eyes, hence the name.

Orange Birds in California

Allen’s Hummingbird

Allen's Hummingbird

  • Scientific Name: Selasphorus sasin
  • Length: 3.3 to 3.5 in 
  • Weight: 0.1 to 0.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 4.2 to 4.4 in

While Anna’s Hummingbird is perhaps the most common one in California, Allen’s Hummingbird isn’t too far behind in terms of numbers and abundance.

Unlike the slim body of most hummingbirds, This aggressive hummingbird is quite stocky and compact. They have shades of green on their backs but they’re mostly orange-yellow. Like many other hummingbirds, these birds also have iridescent throat plumage. For Allen’s Hummingbird, this plumage is deep orange and shines brightly in the light, giving it a golden hue.

Bullock’s Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole

  • Scientific name: Icterus bullockii
  • Length: 6.7 to 7.5 in 
  • Weight: 1.0 to 1.5 oz 
  • Wingspan: 12.1 to 12.4 in 

The orange-colored Bullock’s Oriole is among the most common orioles in the state. They’re medium-sized songbirds with relatively long tails and slim bodies.

The bird sports an orange face, chest, and underbelly while having black wings with several markings of white all over.

One impressive feature of the bird is the black lines that run from their eyes to the top of the head, making them look like they’re wearing spectacles.

American Robin

American Robin

  • Scientific Name: Turdus migratorius
  • Length: 9.0 to 11.0 In
  • Weight: 2.3 to 2.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 14.7 to 16.5 In

The American Robin is very common all over North America. It’s also a frequent backyard bird that hangs around bird feeders while foraging.

This familiar bird is easily identified because it’s quite small and has reddish-orange plumage over the breasts with contrasts of black on its darker wings and backs. 

They’re known for laying bright, sky-blue eggs. So if you find any bright blue bird eggs, you have American robins nearby.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

  • Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea
  • Length: 6.3 to 6.7 in
  • Weight: 0.8 to 1.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 9.8 to 11.4 in

The Scarlet Tanager is found, among other tanagers, in California. Despite their name, they’ve recently been classified as a cardinal rather than a tanager.

The medium-sized birds rock a scarlet orange plumage all over their body except for their tails and wings where the feathers are dark black.

Yellow Birds in California

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

  • Scientific Name: Setophaga coronata
  • Length: 4.7 to 5.5 in
  • Weight: 0.4 to 0.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 7.5 to 9.1 in

Most new world warblers are identified by their canary yellow color. Despite this, it might be challenging to spot one because most of them prefer foraging on the ground where they can blend in easily with dead foliage.

Yellow-rumped Warblers have yellow feathers that cover their face, sides, and rump with the remainder of the body being mostly black.

One special feature of these summer birds is that they don’t keep these vibrant colors all year round. They usually change into a paler winter coat that has a pale brown color.

American Yellow Warbler

American Yellow Warbler

  • Scientific Name: Setophaga petechia
  • Length: 4.7 to 5.1 in
  • Weight: 0.3 to 0.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 6.3 to 7.9 in

The American yellow warbler is another brightly colored bird that is elusive and quite tricky to spot. They typically live around lakes and spruce trees as well as poplar forests, as they like to perch in trees.

To identify them, look for yellow plumage that covers their hood and belly as well as the faint, but characteristic olive-green coloration on their back.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

  • Scientific Name: Spinus psaltria
  • Length: 3.5 to 4.3 in
  • Weight: 0.3 to 0.4 oz 
  • Wingspan: 5.9 to 7.9 in

Although you may come across the American goldfinch in California, the Lesser Goldfinch is by far the most common finch in the state.

These finches are smaller than other birds and finches but they have much the same patterns as the American Goldfinch. The only difference between the two species, apart from the size, is that their backs are sometimes dark olive instead of glossy black.

Other Birds to Watch for In California

California Quail

California Quail

  • Scientific Name: Oreortyx pictus
  • Length: 9.4 to 10.6 in 
  • Weight: 4.9 to 8.1 oz 
  • Wingspan: 12.6 to 14.6 in

The California Quail, also known as the “Valley Quail”, is the state bird of California and is unique in appearance. 

These birds are relatively small compared to chickens and they have a unique and characteristic curved plume of six feathers that droops forward from the top of their head. The drooping plume is usually dark black in males and brown in females, which is one of the ways to tell them apart.

California Condor

California Condor

  • Scientific Name: Gymnogyps californianus
  • Length: 46.1 to 52.8 in
  • Weight: 246.9 to 349.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 105.1 to 109.5 in 

The California Condor is one of the most impressive vultures in North America. They’re also the largest of any land birds on the entire continent.

Unfortunately, there has been a steep decline of California Condors in the wild and they’re a critically endangered species now.

However, there has lately been some bird conservation success. Nearly all remaining condors are bred in captivity and released into the wild to restore biodiversity and balance to the ecosystem in the region.

Mountain Quail

  • Scientific Name: Oreortyx pictus
  • Length: 10.2 to 12.2 in 
  • Weight: 7.4 to 9.2 oz 
  • Wingspan: 11.8 to 15.7 in

The elusive Mountain Quail isn’t only an exotic-looking bird, but it’s also the second most common quail in the state after the California Quail.

Mountain Quails are plump and elusive, which makes them difficult to spot. Yet, you’ll have the most luck finding them in open spaces that are covered with bushes, such as woodlands and farmlands.

They have multicolored plumage of blue-gray, bronze, and white along with a characteristic double-feathered crown over their head.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

  • Scientific Name: Zenaida macroura
  • Length: 11.8 to 12.2 in
  • Weight: 4.3 to 6.4 oz
  • Wingspan: 17.3 to 18.2 in

The Mourning Dove is one of the most common backyard birds in the state of California. This bland bird sports a light brown to tan color of various shades across the body and black spots that make them tricky for predators to spot.

They prefer living in dense shrubs but they’ll fly into your backyard during spring to forage, especially if you’ve filled your feeders up with its favorite bird foods, sunflower seeds, and millet.

Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

  • Scientific Name: Accipiter cooperii
  • Length: 14.5 to 17.7 in (males) – 17 to 20 in (females)
  • Weight: 0.7 to 0.9 lbs (males) – 1.1 to 1.3 lbs (females)
  • Wingspan: 24.3 to 38.9 in

Cooper’s Hawk is the most common hawk in California. This bird of prey is known for its genetic dysmorphia, meaning the females are much larger than males. They have reddish-brown bars on their belly and steely blue-gray plumage on their back. 

They’re mostly found in wooded areas although they typically nest in urban regions, too.

European Starling

European Starling

  • Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris
  • Length: 7.9 to 9.1 in
  • Weight: 2.1 to 3.4 oz 
  • Wingspan: 12.2 to 15.8 in

Although the name might make you think that European Starlings are difficult to find in California, you’ll be delighted to know that these beautiful western birds are frequent backyard feeder visitors around the state.

They’re small and are usually about the same size as an American Robin. The bird has a special iridescent breeding plumage that will shine with tints of green and purple if you approach it from the right angle.

However, these birds typically change their feather coats between seasons, so you can only view these colors in summer.

American Crow

American Crow

  • Scientific Name: Corvus brachyrhynchos
  • Length: 15.8 to 20.9 in
  • Weight: 11.2 to 21.9 oz
  • Wingspan: 33.5 to 39.4 in

Some people like them, some people don’t. Regardless of which team you’re on, there’s no doubt that the American Crow is one of the most popular birds all over the country!

This larger all-black bird has a surprising level of intelligence. While many people think that crows aren’t social and prefer solitude, these classic birds are quite friendly and land frequently in backyards and around feeders. Be careful, though. Their love shiny things and will snatch valuables in a blink.

Costa’s Hummingbird

Costa's Hummingbird

  • Scientific Name: Calypte costae
  • Length: 3.0 to 3.5 in
  • Weight: 0.1 to 0.11 oz
  • Wingspan: 4.1 to 4.3 in

Costa’s Hummingbird is the last hummingbird on our list, but that doesn’t make it the least pretty. This desert specialty hummingbird rocks a naturally vibrant purple cap and throat feather along with a greyish body.

The bird is more commonly spotted in summer because they spend the winter in western Mexico in drier desert habitats. In hummingbird season, you can attract them by simply adding more flowers to your backyard garden!

Pelagic Cormorant

Pelagic Cormorant

  • Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax pelagicus
  • Length: 20.1 to 29.9 in 
  • Weight: 48.3 to 86.1 oz
  • Wingspan: 39.4 to 47.6 in
  • Additional Information: 

Last but not least, the Pelagic Cormorant is one of the most unique marine birds that you can find in the state of California.

They’re typically smaller than other common cormorants in the state, and therefore, they’re less likely to be spotted, especially because they prefer to live around cliffs along the California coast. This on-the-edge habitat keeps them safe from the majority of predators.

This bird makes the list because they have a special iridescent plumage with a tiny red patch under the bill that makes them astonishingly unique!

Wrap Up

There you have it! If you like feeding winter birds, California has birds for you. If you like feisty birds, California has those as well. Many bird watchers lists have been nearly completed just by visiting this state. From mountains to deserts, from your bird bath to your local urban parks, California’s wide array of habitats will provide ample opportunity to hone your bird identification skills. Besides the ones on this list, there are additional birds that will provide you with hours of bird songs to enjoy and share. 

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