Last Updated on November 23, 2022 by Lily Aldrin
California is known for its people’s spirit, farms that feed millions, world-changing innovation, breathtaking beaches, and Hollywood, to mention a few. Our bountiful birdlife would be added to that list by Audubon California.
The tiny Calliope Hummingbird, the lovely Black Phoebe, and the majestic California condor are just a few of the 600 bird species that have been spotted in California, which makes up about two-thirds of all bird species in North America.
California has about 450 kinds of birds, making it one of the most varied states in the country. California has the richest coastlines, wetlands, oak woodlands, deserts, and forests, attracting millions of mating, migrating, and resting birds.
It has 175 bird-friendly sites, the most of any state in the Lower 48. The following California birds to observe are only the beginning of a flock of beautiful California birds to see.
Table of Contents
- 1. Tufted Puffin
- 2. Sooty Shearwater
- 3. California Scrub-Jay
- 4. California condor
- 5. Acorns Woodpecker
- 6. Nuttall’s Woodpecker
- 7. Anna’s Hummingbird
- 8. California Thrasher
- 9. California Quail
- 10. White-Headed Woodpecker
- 11. Mountains Quail
- 12. Wrentit
- 13. Costa’s Hummingbird
- 14. Lawrence’s Goldfinch
- 15. Common Ground-Dove
- 16. Feral Parrots
- 17. Oak Titmouse
- 18. Band-Tailed Pigeon
- 19. Spotted Dove
- 20. Allen’s Hummingbird
- 21. Black-Chinned Sparrow
- 22. Northern Pygmy-Owl
- 23. Yellow-Billed Magpie
- 24. Red-Shouldered Hawk
- 25. White-tailed Hawk
- 26. Whimbrel
- 27. Mountain Plover
- 28. Blue-Footed Booby
- 29. Snowy Plover
- 30. Black Oystercatcher
- 31. Cedar Waxwing
- 32. Cooper’s hawk
- 33. Yellow-rumped Warbler
- 34. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
1. Tufted Puffin
During the summer, the tufted puffin may be seen all along the Pacific Coast, especially off the rugged coast of Northern California. Summer is the greatest season to observe these birds since they are dressed in their breeding plumage, which includes bright, sleek plumes and multicolored bills. In the winter, tufted puffins are much plainer and dwell even farther offshore.
2. Sooty Shearwater
With so much coastline, California is a great site to observe seabirds, with the sooty shearwater being one of the most frequent. These pelagic birds may be observed along the coast of California all year, however, their numbers reached their maximum in late summer when millions of sooty shearwaters hover, hunt, and drift close to the coastline.
3. California Scrub-Jay
In the coastal areas and foothills of California, this long-tailed, lanky “blue jay” is a frequent year-round inhabitant in oak forests, dry shrublands, parks, and suburbs. Scrub-Jays are frequent visitors to bird feeders, and casual observers may love to watch them due to their aggressive, inquisitive, and noisy behavior.
California Scrub-Jays are skilled foragers who take advantage of any opportunity. During the summer, they eat primarily insects and fruits, but in the fall and winter, they turn to seeds and nuts, notably acorns.
Scrub-Jays are known for burying food in the ground for later eating, which has made them a popular subject of cognitive and spatial memory study. A study revealed that a single bird may store up to 5,000 acorns in a single fall! Scrub-jays have been known to consume small vertebrates, as well as bird eggs and nestlings, and have been known to stalk adult birds in order to locate their nests.
4. California condor
The California condor, the state’s namesake raptor, is one of the most well-known bird conservation success stories in the world, yet the huge vultures still face extinction. For the time being, they can only be spotted in isolated parts of southern and central California, and the best way to assure fantastic sightings is to hire a birding guide or visit particular birding hotspots.
5. Acorns Woodpecker
With its clown-like masked look, the acorn woodpecker is a funny bird that may be observed all year in western and northern California. These birds are not specialists and prefer oak woodlands, where they build family-oriented colonies and manage massive granary trees that may store hundreds of nuts at once.
6. Nuttall’s Woodpecker
The Nuttall’s woodpecker lacks a white patch on its back and is somewhat larger than other downies. This feature makes it easy to misinterpret for the more common downy woodpecker.
Habitat & Food
These woodpeckers are common in the oak groves and canyons of western California, and they may occasionally visit feeders with seeds, suet, or peanut butter.
7. Anna’s Hummingbird
Anna’s hummingbird resides in coastal California all year and is more common in southern California.
Hummers prefer dry desert environments, but they may be found in botanical gardens and yards with nectar-rich blooms. They also come to nectar feeders in large numbers, much to the pleasure of backyard birders.
8. California Thrasher
The California thrasher is a reasonably common bird within its habitat, but its neutral coloration and skulking behavior in dense chaparral thickets make it difficult to see. These birds like to sing in open places, which allows birders to get a better glimpse of them. California thrashers are year-round inhabitants of coastal and central California, although they are not found in the state’s northern regions.
9. California Quail
A trip to California would be incomplete without viewing the official state bird, the California quail.
Although they love brushy woods and scrubland settings, these plump, chicken-like birds may also be seen in suburbs and large parks. They can be seen all year throughout much of California, but not in the southern section of the state.
10. White-Headed Woodpecker
The white-headed woodpecker is so named because both male and female birds of this species have whiteheads. Many birders in northern and central California can observe these woodpeckers all year in mountain pine woodlands. Within their range, they are quite abundant, although they rarely venture far from their preferred woodland environments.
11. Mountains Quail
The Sierra Nevada, the Cascades, and the San Bernardino ranges are all prominent mountain ranges in California, and any of them might be an excellent site to view the elusive mountain quail.
These birds prefer deep thickets and brushy slopes, although their vivid coloring and distinctive body patterns may be observed all year in the state’s northern and central highlands.
The wrentit, another rather simple bird, is big but difficult to observe because it hides in low thickets. However, these birds have a powerful call and are frequently heard before being seen. Wrentits live in western California all year, although they aren’t found in most of the hilly areas.
13. Costa’s Hummingbird
The costa’s hummingbird is a desert hummingbird that may be seen all year round in the driest areas of southern California. These birds migrate somewhat north during the summer breeding season, notably in western California, and males may be identified by their vivid purple gorge with deep, pointed corners.
14. Lawrence’s Goldfinch
In the arid, scrubby environments and weedy fields where it thrives, Lawrence’s goldfinch may be a brilliant spot of golden color. These birds live in tiny groups and have a year-round range that spans over central California.
Lawrence’s goldfinches are sometimes observed with lesser goldfinches and American goldfinches, and their songs contain imitation, making them even more perplexing.
Check out this article on Types of Finches in California.
15. Common Ground-Dove
The common ground-dove is a kind of dove that might be challenging to identify. To be certain about this bird, check for a scaly appearance on the breast, a crimson beak, and speckled wings. The common ground-dove may be seen all year in southern California.
16. Feral Parrots
Even if they don’t officially count on birders’ favorite bird lists, a variety of feral parrot species are often valued garden birds. Classic birds to observe in major metropolitan parks in California, different kinds of wild parrots are often adored backyard birds.
Some of the species recorded in California include the red-crowned and yellow-headed parrot, red-masked parakeet, and mitered parakeet along with blue-crowned parakeet.
17. Oak Titmouse
These little grey birds may appear unremarkable save for a slight crest on their heads, yet Oak Titmice have a lot of heart.
They are almost exclusively limited to California’s drier slopes and are strongly associated with oak forests, where you can hear their fast, chattering cries as they fly furiously over the canopy in couples or small family groups in search of insects to eat. The male’s peter-peter song can be heard throughout the year, although it is most prevalent in the spring. Oak Titmice pair for life and defend their territory all year.
They are almost identical in appearance to the Great Basin Juniper Titmouse, with which they have once classified the same species, the Plain Titmouse. Oak Titmice generally nest and roost in natural cavities chosen by the female, although they sometimes use nest boxes on a regular basis. They are also attracted to suet or seed feeders.
18. Band-Tailed Pigeon
Pigeons are not uncommon in California, however, the band-tailed pigeon is distinct from the common city pigeon or mourning dove. These pigeons live on the foothills of California’s mountain ranges, particularly along the coast and in the state’s interior. Their yellow bills and huge shimmering patch on the back of their necks distinguish them.
They prefer to consume fruits, nuts, and berries.
19. Spotted Dove
The spotted dove is an unusual bird to observe in southern California, which normally ranges from San Diego to Bakersfield, yet that is the region over which these Asian birds have spread since their arrival to the state.
They may be seen in parks and gardens in suburban communities and can be identified by their spotty patch on the side of the neck.
20. Allen’s Hummingbird
Summer visitors to coastal California have also included Allen’s hummingbird, a bold and aggressive hummingbird that may be found from Santa Barbara to the northern border.
The orange plumage and greenback of these birds make them simple to identify, although other rufous hummingbirds have greenbacks as well, and where these species’ ranges overlap, considerable care must be taken to ensure accurate identification.
21. Black-Chinned Sparrow
The black-chinned sparrow is small and silent, making it easy to overlook. Its light beak and black face, on the other hand, give it a unique look, and its stripped-back instantly identifies it as a sparrow. These species have been recorded throughout central and southern California during the summer mating season.
22. Northern Pygmy-Owl
Owls can be mysterious, but the northern pygmy-owl is one of the most visible owls in California. These little but ferocious owls may be found all year in mountain forests across California, primarily along the coast, in the north, and in western California, and they are often aggressive hunters even during daylight hours.
23. Yellow-Billed Magpie
The yellow-billed magpie, a California specialty, is found exclusively in central California and nowhere else on the planet. These big corvids have lustrous plumage and a long tail, and their distinctive yellow beak may be seen from afar.
They are most commonly seen in rural settings with meadows, farms, and scattered oak groves.
24. Red-Shouldered Hawk
This medium-sized forest hawk is possibly California’s noisiest raptor since it is frequently heard before it is seen. Their piercing, high-pitched keeah cries, which they employ to defend their territory or seek a mate, signal the arrival of spring throughout their coastal habitat.
Unlike populations in the eastern United States, which are nearly entirely forest dwellers, Red-shouldered Hawks in California appear to be more adaptive, frequently occupying suburban homes and parks.
Red-shouldered Hawks are devoted to their territories, mating in the same spot year after year. One reported couple in Southern California bred in the same spot for 16 years. Their huge platform nests high in the trees, which are built by both sexes, are frequently reused for several seasons.
Red-shouldered Hawks, like many other raptors, live a life of at least 25 years and 10 months. The oldest known hawk of this species was a female caught and released during banding operations in California.
25. White-tailed Hawk
With its hooded red eyes and beautiful light plumage, the white-tailed kite has a piercing glare.
Its ability to hover momentarily further distinguishes this bird of prey. Year-round, these raptors may be seen throughout coastal and central California, usually in open land with a few high perches. Because white-tailed kites tend to perch and search for food, they are simple to see.
The whimbrel is the most widely distributed curlew species, and it is a frequent winter visitor to California’s coast. They may be found in a wide range of environments, including beaches, mudflats, and flooded fields.
The long, curved distinctive bill of these birds is a little shorter than the bill of the long-billed curlew, which is also found in the same areas.
27. Mountain Plover
The mountain plover is a species of shorebird that is rarely seen at the water’s edge. It also isn’t found in mountains.
Instead, these huge plovers require dry, short, grassy plains, which are ideal for mountain plovers in central California and the state’s extreme southern area. These birds, on the other hand, can be evasive and difficult to see.
28. Blue-Footed Booby
The blue-footed booby is not commonly observed in California, but it is a frequent, if uncommon, wanderer to the area, especially in the summer and across southern California. The bird’s distinct form and distinctive brilliant blue legs and feet make it a popular target species whenever it appears, attracting birders from all across the state and even farther away to add it to their life lists.
29. Snowy Plover
The snowy plover, a year-round inhabitant along the California coast, likes dry, sandy beaches. Several of these birds may be found on alkali flats in central California during the summer mating season, and they can also be seen further east. Look for the bird’s shattered necklace patterns and grey leg colors for proper identification.
30. Black Oystercatcher
The black oystercatcher stands out not just because of its all-black plumage and vivid orange-red beak, but also because of its tireless foraging on rocky beaches. These birds are usually encountered in couples or small groups along the California coast, while they are less common in the south.
31. Cedar Waxwing
The delicate, lisping cries of this gregarious, fruit-loving bird may be heard when they descend in big flocks to feast on berry-laden bushes and shrubs.
Cedar Waxwings are one of the more migratory songbirds, moving about in pursuit of regionally rich fruit crops. Depending on access to food, their mating and nesting habitats may change season to season. They are most commonly observed in California throughout the winter and will be lured to backyards with fruit-producing native plants including dogwood, and coffee berry.
Cedar Waxwings are one of the few birds that can live on fruit alone for months, yet they’ve been known to get tipsy after eating too many overripe fruits that have started rotting. Waxwings will also consume insects caught acrobatically on the wing throughout the summer.
The crimson, wax-like droplets on the inner wing feathers are one of the waxwing’s distinguishing physical features. Although the specific function of these waxy tips is unknown, experts believe they may aid in the attraction of mates.
32. Cooper’s hawk
The Cooper’s hawk is the smallest and most common of California’s three bird-hunting Accipiter hawks, breeding in forests throughout the state as well as forested suburbs increased their population with greater number in the past few decades.
Cooper’s Hawks are relatively covert, despite their wide range, and are most often observed quickly stalking above the border of woodland or field. Cooper’s Hawks are effective at the following food through dense tree canopies at high speeds, thanks to their long tail and powerful, rounded wings. They will also use backyard feeders for hunting on occasion––observant viewers may hear alarm cries spreading among backyard birds prior to Cooper’s approach.
Cooper’s Hawks primarily eat medium-sized birds like doves, starlings, and robins, although they will occasionally take smaller animals. Females are roughly 30% bigger than males, making for one of the most dramatic sex-based size disparities of any hawk, and females consume greater prey than males as a result of this disparity.
Cooper’s Hawks are famously difficult to tell apart from its smaller relative, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, which is mostly a winter visitor to California.
33. Yellow-rumped Warbler
These birds, popularly known as “butter-butts” because of a prominent yellow patch on their rumps, are among the toughest and most ubiquitous warblers in North America. Yellow-rumped Warblers are a popular wintering bird in much of California, flocking together in small groups to visit trees and bushes.
Unlike other insect-eating warblers. Yellow-rumped Warblers consume berries as well, since the waxy layer of berries may be digested by warblers, which is a dietary choice that allows the species to spend the winter further north than other warblers.
By April, the majority of the birds will have left for their nesting habitats, which include coniferous forests in the California mountain ranges. The western North American yellow-throated “Audubon’s” warbler and the white-throated eastern “Myrtle” warbler are two subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warblers that were considered distinct species of these birds in the past.
34. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadees are a frequent and charming non-migratory inhabitant of the wet coniferous woods of coastal California The species has expanded its geographic range over the last five decades by colonizing forest habitats in the central Sierra Nevada and suburban areas in the eastern San Francisco Bay.
They have usually observed feeding in flocks alongside other chickadee species in the woodlands, but they may also utilize domestic bird feeders that provide seeds or suet. Chestnut-backed Chickadees generally build their nests in tree cavities, including hair and fur into the process. Half of a nest hole’s material consists of fur and hair, which the adults use to wrap their eggs as a protective covering when they leave the nest.
Pollinators, predators, scavengers, seed dispersers, engineers, and birds are essential components of healthy natural systems in riparian, wetland, and coastal environments. Birds are biomarkers of broader ecosystem function and environmental health because they respond fast to climatic and other changes and are reasonably easy to view and study.
Both birds and humans require clean air, water, and land – and their long-term health is interlinked.
What kind of bird would you see in California?
A vacation to California would not be completed without seeing the California quail, which is the state bird of California. Although they love brushy woods and chaparral settings, these chicken-like plump birds may also be seen in suburbs and large parks.
How many different bird species does California have?
California has about 450 kinds of birds, making it one of the most varied states in the country.
What is California’s most common bird?
The House Finch is the most common bird in California, appearing in 44 percent of all bird checklists for the state throughout the year.
What kinds of birds are allowed in California?
Most of the birds are permitted to keep in California. The only parrot that is prohibited is the invading monk parakeet or Quaker parrot. Eagles, hawks, vultures, commonly called birds of prey, and corvids such as crows and magpies are forbidden to keep.