Monday, July 15, 2019

Common backyard birds of California (lists, photos, ID)

I've put this resource together for you to answer the question: What birds are in my backyard in California? This article tells you what California birds you can expect in your backyard and when they are most common. I also provide a photo and description section to help you with California bird identification of the most common birds native to California backyards.

The most common backyard birds throughout the year in California are these:

  1. House Finch (43% frequency)
  2. Black Phoebe (40%)
  3. Anna's Hummingbird (38%)
  4. American Crow (35%)
  5. Mourning Dove (34%)
  6. California Scrub-Jay (32%)
  7. White-crowned Sparrow (29%)
  8. Yellow-rumped Warbler (28%)
  9. California Towhee (28%)
  10. Song Sparrow (27%)
  11. European Starling (25%)
  12. Lesser Goldfinch (24%)
  13. Bushtit (22%)
  14. Spotted Towhee (21%)
  15. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
  16. American Robin (20%)
  17. Northern Mockingbird (20%)

These species occur on more than 20% of all eBird checklists for the state.

In this article:
Lists of the most common backyard birds in California
Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in California
Other common birds you might see in your backyard and neighborhood in California
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in Los Angeles, California
Comparison of the most common backyard birds in San Francisco, California
Beyond your backyard

California is a large state with many varied habitats. As such, it enjoys a wide variety of birds. This page lists the most common backyard and neighborhood birds you are likely to see. We'll take a look at changes in seasonal composition of birds. Then we'll display some photos of the most common backyard birds and tell a little about them. Finally, we'll compare backyard birds in Los Angeles and San Francisco with the state as a whole and see what differences there are.

I've used the citizen science website eBird to create these lists of common backyard birds. The birds are ranked by frequency--how often they are recorded on a list of a birds submitted to eBird. These lists are from every habitat and location within the state. eBird itself doesn't separate backyard birds from other habitats--I have done that for you. Common birds that aren't found as often in backyards I've put into separate lists below the photo list.

Lists of the most common feeder birds and backyard birds in California

The birds listed at the top of the page are those most frequently encountered in backyards throughout the state and throughout the year. Many of the most common backyard birds are residents, but there are seasonal differences as well.

Winters are mild in much of the state. Many northern birds migrate to California for the winter. Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Dark-eyed Juncos join the list of common backyard birds in winter, though each of these also nest in the mountains and northern parts of California, too. But they are supplemented in winter by individuals from as far away as Alaska.

The most common backyard birds in California in winter (December to February) are these:
1. Yellow-rumped Warbler (44% frequency)
2. Black Phoebe (44%)
3. White-crowned Sparrow (42%)
4. House Finch (39%)
5. Anna's Hummingbird (39%)
6. American Crow (36%)
7. California Scrub-Jay (31%)
8. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (29%)
9. Mourning Dove (28%)
10. California Towhee (26%)
11. European Starling (24%)
12. Song Sparrow (24%)
13. Dark-eyed Junco (24%)
14. Northern Flicker (22%)
15. American Robin (22%)
16. Golden-crowned Sparrow (21%)
17. Lesser Goldfinch (20%)

You may enjoy this article: Feeding winter birds in California

The most frequent summer backyard birds in California are primarily resident birds, though there are many migrants that come up from spending the winter in Mexico. These migrants are primarily insect-eaters and are more common in the forests than in lowland residential areas.

The most common backyard birds in California during the summer (June to July) are these:
1. House Finch (42% frequency)
2. Mourning Dove (39%)
3. Black Phoebe (31%)
4. Anna's Hummingbird (30%)
5. American Crow (29%)
6. California Scrub-Jay (28%)
7. California Towhee (27%)
8. Song Sparrow (27%)
9. Lesser Goldfinch (26%)
10. Spotted Towhee (24%)
11. American Robin (24%)
12. Cliff Swallow (20%)
13. Bushtit (20%)
14. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)
15. Northern Mockingbird (20%)

Photos and ID of the most common backyard birds in California

Photo of a House Finch in a bird bath
House Finch in bird bath
Photo by Greg Gillson

1. House Finch (43% frequency of all eBird checklists)

Here is California's most common backyard bird. There are other red finches, but these are the ones most likely in residential areas.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 6 inches from bill tip to tail tip. Larger than goldfinches and chickadees. Smaller than a White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. Shape: Medium build with a medium-long notched tail. Round head. Bill: Short, conical. Color: Brown and gray above with streaks on the sides of the pale underparts. Males with red (sometimes orange or rarely yellow) crown, chest, rump.

Habitat, range & behavior: You'll find small flocks on wires, in short tree tops and in bushes. Originally deserts and grasslands. Rural areas and towns are where they're now most common. Formerly found in the western United States and Mexico. Then introduced into the northeastern United States, but now found in nearly all of the lower-48 states and extreme southern Canada. Rare in plains states (Dakotas to Texas) and southern Florida. House Finches are very common throughout California. House Finches are not territorial, but males sing throughout the year--a lively, wiry song ending in a couple of buzzy notes.

Food and feeder preference: They love sunflower seeds and tube feeders. May eat from thistle socks.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting House Finches.

Photo of a Black Phoebe at a pond
Black Phoebe at a pond
Photo by Greg Gillson

2. Black Phoebe (40%)

This perky little flycatcher should be familiar to most California residents.

Identification: Size: About the size of a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. Bigger than a House Finch. Much smaller than a European Starling. Shape: Big peaked head, pot belly, long slender tail. Bill: About half the length of the head, straight, very wide. Color: Sooty black upper parts and upper breast. White belly.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in lowlands near water, extensive lawns, and grassy backyards. Found in the western United States, most of Mexico, south into northern and western South America. In California, Black Phoebes are found in the lower areas in the western and southern parts of the state. May build their mud nests on porches or out buildings. Typical flycatching behavior: sitting still, then sallying out to grab a flying insect, and return to a perch with a bob of the tail.

Food and feeder preference: Flying insects that they chase low over the lawn in aerial pursuits. They don't eat at bird feeders, but they need your bird bath to make mud for their nests.

Photo of Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird
Photo by Greg Gillson

3. Anna's Hummingbird (38%)

California's big resident hummingbird is everywhere there are people!

Identification: Size: Slightly larger than widespread hummingbirds like Ruby-throated in the east and Rufous Hummingbird in the west. Smaller than a goldfinch or chickadee. Shape: Plump, with long wings covering tail. Unmistakable long bill. Bill: Longer than head, round, slightly downcurved. Color: Green upper parts, gray under parts with greenish cast on sides. Male with entire head and throat covered in iridescent metallic rose pink. Female usually has pink throat spot.

Habitat, range & behavior: Chaparral, open woods, suburban gardens all host this species. Formerly only in northern Baja and southern California they expanded to Arizona, and all the way to southern Alaska along the Pacific coast, following plantings of winter blooming flowers and the popularity of placing out hummingbird feeders. Anna's Hummingbirds occur now throughout California. Nest early (December to February), even as they move north and encounter snow in winter.

Food and feeder preference: Nectar and small insects is their main food. Both are available in flowering plants. Quickly find hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water.

Photo of American Crow
American Crow
Photo by Greg Gilson

4. American Crow (35%)

This larger all-black bird is common in cities and country. Its cawing call is familiar to most people.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 17-1/2 inches long from bill tip to tail tip, though there is much size variation throughout its range. Larger than blackbirds and grackles. Smaller than ravens. Shape: Thick neck, large head, rather short square-ended tail. Longer legs. In flight has rounded wing tips with each primary feather separated from others forming "fingers." Bill: As long as head, thick, black. Color: Glossy black throughout.

Habitat, range & behavior: They prefer open areas with trees, fields, farms, cities. They are common across most of the United States lower-48, except in the desert southwest. They move into southern Canada in summer. American Crows occur in California throughout except for high mountains and desert areas. They gather in evening communal roosts in large flocks that may number into the thousands and then move out at dawn into the surrounding area.

Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous, they feed on large insects, grain, small mammals, carrion. You probably don't want these large entirely-black birds in your backyard feeders. So don't feed table scraps to birds.

Photo of Mourning Dove in a tree
Mourning Dove
Photo by Greg Gillson

5. Mourning Dove (34%)

Mourning Doves are the most widespread and most frequent backyard bird in the Lower 48 states of the United States.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 12 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About same size as Northern Flicker. Larger than American Robin. Slightly smaller than domestic city pigeon. Shape: Very plump with a small round head. Tail is long and pointed. Legs are short. Bill: Small and rather slender. Color: Pale brown-pink body, darker wings and tail. White edges on side of tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: Semi-open areas such as urban areas, farmlands, woods. Often seen perched on wires, fences. It is a resident across the lower-48 states and Mexico, with some movement out of northern areas in winter. Mourning Doves are found throughout California, but move out of the high mountains in winter. Their mournful cooing is a familiar spring birdsong.

Food and feeder preference: Mourning Doves eat seeds almost exclusively. Attract with black oil sunflower seeds on a large sturdy tray feeder or on the ground.

Photo of California Scrub-Jay hopping in the lawn
California Scrub-Jay
Photo by Greg Gillson

6. California Scrub-Jay (32%)

This is California's common lowland jay, brash and noisy.

Identification: Size: This bird is the size of an American Robin or Northern Mockingbird. They are larger than a European Starling or Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a Mourning Dove. Shape: Strong body, thick neck, big head. Long legs. Fairly long full tail. Bill: Long, stout, curved near tip. Color: Deep azure blue upperparts, wings and tail with gray-brown back. Black bill and mask. White under parts with partial blue necklace across chest.

Habitat, range & behavior: Oak woodlands, chaparral, residential areas. Found along west coast from northern Baja to Washington state. In California, Scrub-Jays are found below the high mountains and west of the deserts. They forage on the ground, caching food to save for later.

Food and feeder preference: Omnivorous, they eat insects, berries, small animals, bird eggs. At hopper and tray feeders they may harass other birds, and gulp down large quantities of black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts to go bury. Thus, some people put wire mesh cages over their hopper and tube feeders to keep the jays out--smaller birds can get through the mesh.

Photo of White-crowned Sparrow in Douglas-fir
White-crowned Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

7. White-crowned Sparrow (29%)

A common winter visitor in California and resident along the coast and in the higher mountains.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: About 7 inches. A large sparrow near size of Spotted/Eastern towhee. Larger than House Finch. Smaller than Starling or Red-winged Blackbird. Shape: Longer plump body, round head, long tail. Bill: Short and conical. Color: Brown back, wings, tail, gray under parts, black-and-white striped crown. For their first year immature birds have tan and reddish-brown striped crowns.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open and shrubby areas. Coastal form of White-crowned Sparrow lives year-round in California at edge of sand dunes. Common winter form of White-crowned Sparrow in California breeds on Arctic tundra. Various forms breed across the Arctic Canada and Alaska and in mountains in western Canada and the United States. They sing in spring migration as they move northward. Different populations have slightly different songs.

Food and feeder preference: Weed seeds, grain, insects. Eat black oil sunflower seeds and other seeds on hopper and tray feeders.

Photo of Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Photo by Greg Gillson

8. Yellow-rumped Warbler (28%)

An abundant winter visitor in California to tree tops and weedy areas.

Identification: Size: Small, they are a bit larger than chickadees and goldfinches. They are smaller than House Finches and juncos. Shape: Plump and neckless with a shorter tail. Bill: Short, slender, straight, pointed. Color: Breeding plumage in spring is blue-gray on the upper parts, black sides and chest, yellow rump, yellow on sides. Two forms: western form with yellow throat and large white wing patch; eastern and northern form with white throat and two white wing bars. In winter plumage both forms are gray brown above, pale cream below. Yellow rump and white tail corners in flight.

Habitat, range & behavior: In breeding season mostly in coniferous or mixed forests, in mountains in west. In winter open areas with fruiting shrubs and scattered trees. Breed across Canada and Alaska and in conifer forests in the west. Winter along both coasts and the southern states through Middle America. There are also non-migratory forms in Mexico and Guatemala. In California, Yellow-rumped Warblers  breed in the mountains and winter throughout. They tend to forage in outer branches about half way up the tree.

Food and feeder preference: Mainly insects in the summer, they switch to waxy berries and fruit in winter. They are thus able to winter farther north than other warblers. They are attracted to suet feeders.

Photo of California Towhee
California Towhee
Photo by Greg Gillson

9. California Towhee (28%)

This is a plain but common bird in California.

Identification: Size: Longer than a European Starling or Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Much larger than Spotted/Eastern towhees. Shape: Large heavy sparrow with short neck, large head, large full tail. Bill: Short, stout, conical. Color: Dusty brown with rusty under tail coverts.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in chaparral scrub from Baja Sur to SW Oregon. In California, California Towhees are found mostly below the high mountains and west of the deserts. Scratches among leaf litter on ground to find food. Unlike many chaparral birds, when the residential landscape encroached, rather than flee, it moved right into the backyard!

Food and feeder preference: Primarily seeds and insects. They will eat mixed seeds in a tray feeder or on the ground under the feeder.

Photo of Song Sparrow in bush
Song Sparrow
Photo by Greg Gillson

10. Song Sparrow (27%)

A common bird, but variable, and similar to many other streaked brown sparrows.

Identification: Size: A smaller bird, similar in size to House Finch and juncos. Larger than chickadees and goldfinches. Smaller than White-crowned Sparrows or Spotted/Eastern towhees. Shape: Plump with round head, long rounded tail. Bill: Short, conical. Color: Highly variable in darkness and color saturation across its range (dark rusty to pale gray). Generally gray-brown above with dark brown streaking on back. Complicated head pattern. Streaking on sides and breast converge into dense central breast spot.

Habitat, range & behavior: Thickets, especially near water. Backyard shrubbery. Resident in western United States, western Canada, coastal southern Alaska, northeastern US. In summer also moves into mid-Canada and northern half of US. In the winter found in most of the US lower-48. Also a population in central Mexico. In California, Song Sparrows are found throughout, but leave the southern deserts in summer. Forages on ground, never far from low cover to which they fly if startled.

Food and feeder preference: They feed on seeds and insects near the ground. Will visit hopper and tray feeders for mixed bird seed.

Photo of European Starling
European Starling
Photo by Greg Gillson

11. European Starling (25%)

Introduced to North America in the late 1800's, they crossed the continent, often to the detriment of native cavity-nesting birds. The prime example of an invasive species.

Identification: Size: About the size of a Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. Larger than a White-crowned Sparrow or Spotted/Eastern towhee. Shape: Stocky with large head, short square-ended tail. Longer legs. Bill: As long as head. Sharp pointed. Yellow in spring, otherwise dark. Color: They are grayish brown much of the year, with glossy iridescence and white spotting during the spring.

Habitat, range & behavior: Lowland birds that need trees large enough for nest cavities but plenty of open area for feeding. They are most abundant in urban and suburban areas where they find food and artificial nest cavities. Resident from coast-to-coast from southern Canada to northern Mexico. In summer north across Canada and Alaska. Native range is Europe to Pakistan, north Africa. European Starlings are found throughout California. Often viewed as a pest, starlings often bully other backyard birds, taking over bird feeders, and stealing nest cavities from smaller native birds. In winter they can form into flocks of ten's of thousands.

Food and feeder preference: Primarily insects when available, often feeding on the ground. Discourage them from your backyard hopper and tray feeders by never feeding birds table scraps (including bread or meat). They have weak feet and do not perch well on tube feeders. A cage mesh around smaller hopper feeders may keep them out.

Photo of Lesser Goldfinch in willow
Lesser Goldfinch
Photo by Greg Gillson

12. Lesser Goldfinch (24%)

This bird replaces American Goldfinch in drier parts of the southwestern US.

Identification: Size: A small bird. Slightly smaller than American Goldfinch, but close. Shape: Big head, neckless, short forked tail. Bill: Short, small, conical. Color: Green back, yellow underparts including under tail coverts. Black wings and tail with white marks. Male with black cap on forecrown. Keeps the same bright yellow plumage year-round, unlike American Goldfinch.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open scrubby woodlands of oak or other trees, fields, grasslands. Found in the western and southwestern US, into the Great Basin in summer. Found southward to Middle America. Lesser Goldfinches are found throughout California except for high northern mountains. They sometimes gather into flocks of hundreds to feed in weedy fields.

Food and feeder preference: They eat mostly thistle seeds, some insects. At your feeder they will eat black oil sunflower seeds at a tube feeder, but prefer Nyjer seeds in a "thistle sock" feeder.

Photo of a flock of Bushtits on a suet feeder
Bushtits on a suet feeder
Photo by Greg Gillson

13. Bushtit (22%)

You may find the nests of these birds about 6-8 feet off the ground under the lower limbs of conifers or similar bushy tree. Nests look like an old sock hanging in the tree. They are made of lichens and similar plant material and hair, held together by spider webs.

Identification: Size: Bushtits are tiny birds. Near the size of a hummingbird. Smaller than a goldfinch or chickadee. Shape: Plump with a round head and long rounded tail. Bill: Short, straight, stout. Color: Gray throughout with a browner head. Interior birds are paler.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in open woods, scrub, chaparral. Bushtits are birds of the western United States and Mexico. In California, Bushtits are absent from high mountains and southern deserts. During most of the year they are found in large twittering flocks. They fly weakly, single file, from bush to bush.

Food and feeder preference: Eat many types of insects. Find them in winter in shrubs up next to houses. To attract them to your backyard offer a suet block.

Photo of a Spotted Towhee on a rock
Spotted Towhee
Greg Gillson

14. Spotted Towhee (21%)

Look for this bird scratching in the leaf litter under bushes at the edge of your yard.

Identification: Size: A large sparrow, slightly larger than a White-crowned Sparrow. Larger than a House Finch. Smaller than a starling. Shape: A plump, large-headed sparrow with a full rounded tail. Bill: Short, pointed, conical. Color: Black above including hood. Variable number of white spots on back and wings depending upon location. White tail corners. White belly. Rusty orange sides. Red eye. Females paler, more brownish.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in brushy areas, chaparral, mountain forest understory. Found throughout the western half of the United States, mountains of Mexico. In summer to southwestern Canada. In winter to Texas. In California, Spotted Towhees are found throughout, but leave the mountains in winter and leave the deserts in summer. They scratch for food on the ground, turning over leaf litter under bushes.

Food and feeder preference: Insects, seeds, and berries. At your birdfeeder will eat seeds on ground or platform feeder.

Photo of Dark-eyed Junco on a railing
Dark-eyed Junco
Photo by Greg Gillson

15. Dark-eyed Junco (20%)

Colloquially called "snowbirds," they often arrive in backyards in winter from nearby mountain forests or more northern climes.

Identification: Size: Small birds about the size of a House Finch. Shape: Round body, short neck, round head, fairly long square-ended tail. Bill: Short, pointed, conical, pink. Color: Eastern birds are a darker all-gray with white belly. Western birds have jet black hood over head, brown back, and pink sides.

Habitat, range & behavior: Breed in coniferous forests. Winters widely. Avoids heavy brush, preferring widely spaced bushes. Breeds across most of Canada, Alaska, and the western half of the United States. Winters from southern Canada and all of the lower 48-states to extreme northern Mexico. In California, Dark-eyed Juncos breed in mountains (and damp coastal conifers south to San Diego) and winter throughout. Spend much of their time hopping and feeding on the ground.

Food and feeder preference: Eats mostly seeds, also insects in summer. Readily feed at backyard feeders on mixed seeds on hopper or tray feeders and ground.

You may like my in-depth article on attracting Dark-eyed Juncos.

Photo of American Robin
American Robin
Photo by Greg Gillson

16. American Robin (20%)

This familiar bird is a resident in the northern half of the United States and a winter visitor in the southern half.

Identification: This is a key species for comparing with an unknown bird. Size: 10 inches long from bill tip to tail tip. About the same size as a Blue Jay or one of the Scrub-Jays. Larger than Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than a Mourning Dove. Shape: Very plump with a fairly long tail. Bill: Straight and fairly slender, curved at the tip. Color: Gray-brown upperparts, rusty orange breast.

Habitat, range & behavior: Open woodlands, farmlands, urban parks and lawns. Migratory, breeds north across Alaska and Canada. Resident in most of the United States (lower 48). Winters in the United States, Mexico, to central America. In California, American Robins breed in mountains and the northern parts of the state; they winter throughout, including desert near water and lawns. Hops on your lawn turning head this way and that looking for food. Their caroling song is one of the early signs of spring in the north.

Food and feeder preference: Worms and other invertebrates in the lawn. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.

Photo of Northern Mockingbird on the ground
Northern Mockingbird
Photo by Greg Gillson

17. Northern Mockingbird (20%)

This bird sings from exposed perches most of the year and often through the night. They have an unending supply of their own unique short phrases that they repeat about 3 times each, but frequently intersperse songs of other birds.

Identification: Size: The length of an American Robin. Shape: Slender and long-tailed. Long legs. Bill: Medium length, slender, slightly curved. Color: Gray, darker above, with white patches in wing and tail.

Habitat, range & behavior: They prefer edge habitat with scattered trees and bushes, parks and residential areas. It is found in eastern and southern parts of the US, West Indies, and south into Mexico. In California, Northern Mockingbirds are resident, except they are absent in conifer forests and mountains. In summer birds are found a bit farther north. They boldly defend their nests from other birds, cats, and intruders.

Food and feeder preference: Eats insects, berries, and fruit. You may attract mockingbirds to your feeder with grapes, raisins, apple slices. They will come to a suet block. They readily use a bird bath.

What other common birds might you see from your backyard in California?

The following birds you may see in your backyard, neighborhood, or perhaps flying over. You could see many additional species depending upon whether your property is bordered by woods, lakes, or beaches.

The birds listed here are all common birds, whether normally found in backyards or adjoining lands or airspace.

Watch for these additional common California birds in winter (December to February):
Red-tailed Hawk (31% frequency)
American Coot (29%)
Mallard (28%)
Common Raven (26%)
Turkey Vulture (23%)
Double-crested Cormorant (21%)
Great Egret (20%)

Here is a list of California summer birds (June to July) not on the lists at the top of the page:
Common Raven (25% frequency)
Turkey Vulture (23%)
Mallard (22%)

There are a few migrant swallows, warblers, and a grosbeak on the list of spring birds you might see in your backyard in California. Some make this list as they have distinctive calls or songs or breeding displays, and may be quieter during the rest of the year, so aren't as detected as frequently, even though they may be present year-round. Many more are possible, but these are the most frequent.

Additional birds you may see in your backyard during spring migration (April-May):
Red-winged Blackbird (23% frequency)
Northern Mockingbird (23%)
Bewick's Wren (20%)
Wilson's Warbler (19%)
Black-headed Grosbeak (19%)
Orange-crowned Warbler (18%)
Acorn Woodpecker (18%)
Cliff Swallow (18%)
House Sparrow (18%)
Nuttall's Woodpecker (18%)
Barn Swallow (18%)
California Quail (18%)

Comparing the most common backyard birds of Los Angeles, California

Photo of Northern Mockingbird on the lawn
Northern Mockingbird is common in Los Angeles
Photo by Greg Gillson

These are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in Los Angeles County, California:

House Finch (61% frequency)
Mourning Dove (54%)
Black Phoebe (50%)
Anna's Hummingbird (44%)
American Crow (41%)
Northern Mockingbird (39%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (39%)
Lesser Goldfinch (39%)
California Towhee (38%)
Common Raven (36%)
Bushtit (35%)
California Scrub-Jay (34%)
Allen's Hummingbird (33%)
Mallard (32%)
White-crowned Sparrow (30%)
Red-tailed Hawk (29%)
House Sparrow (27%)
European Starling (27%)
American Coot (26%)
Song Sparrow (25%)
Rock Pigeon (24%)
Spotted Towhee (21%)
Bewick's Wren (20%)
Nuttall's Woodpecker (20%)

There are a couple of birds that are more common in Los Angeles than in the state as a whole. The Mockingbird is especially common in southern California backyards. Allen's Hummingbird is restricted to the coastal strip the length of the state, but there is a resident population in southern California.
Farther north in California, Allen's Hummingbirds are only spring and summer birds. Bushtit is a resident in California, but more common in the coastal sage scrub habitat surrounding residential areas in Los Angeles and southern California. They are common backyard birds.

Comparing the most common backyard birds of San Francisco, California

Photo of Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a common bird in San Francisco
Photo by Greg Gillson

These are the most common backyard birds throughout the year in San Francisco County, California:

Anna's Hummingbird (54%)
White-crowned Sparrow (50%)
Western Gull (49%)
Black Phoebe (41%)
Song Sparrow (40%)
House Finch (40%)
Common Raven (39%)
America Robin (38%)
Rock Pigeon (37%)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (32%)
Dark-eyed Junco (32%)
Pygmy Nuthatch (31%)
American Crow (30%)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (29%)
California Towhee (28%)
Double-crested Cormorant (27%)
Red-tailed Hawk (27%)
California Scrub-Jay (26%)
Mallard (25%)
European Starling (24%)
Golden-crowned Sparrow (22%)
Brewer's Blackbird (21%)
Townsend's Warbler (20%)
Bushtit (20%)

Chestnut-backed Chickadees reach south to the redwoods in San Francisco, but not much farther. The cool, damp conditions and resulting shrubs and bushes allow Dark-eyed Juncos to be common backyard birds, as well. I was really surprised at the Pygmy Nuthatches, though. These are birds of mature ponderosa pine forests in the mountains of the west. I was surprised to learn they are a backyard feeder birds in areas of San Francisco where Monterey pines occur.

Lesser Goldfinches prefer inland oak savanna or chaparral. Thus they are not a common bird in San Francisco. Surprisingly, Mourning Doves are found on less than 20% of checklists in San Francisco while they are much more common in the state as a whole, and Los Angeles especially.

Beyond your backyard

To create this page on the backyard birds in California I used some of the advanced features of eBird.

You can learn more about what birds are in your own backyard using some easy and helpful features of eBird. Rare birds. Common birds. Winter birds, spring birds, summer birds, and fall birds. In fact, you can determine the abundance of all birds likely in your area for every week of the year! You can also see photos of the birds from your own area.

eBird also has numerous photos and voice recordings of birds. Thus, you can see pictures of all the variation in each species. And you can listen to recordings of bird songs and calls.

Not all birds can be found in backyards. You may find that you wish to see birds in other places. If so, you'll want to check this out.

First, I'm sending you to eBird ( Please don't forget me! Bookmark this page to come back.

The eBird menu system may change in the future, so I'm going to tell you what menu items to go to, but I'll provide some links to the pages as they are set up today. I will attempt to keep these links updated if they change in the future.

Explore Regions for birds in your own county

From the eBird home page, select the tab for Explore ( The Explore page offers several options. Please use the Explore Regions form for now. Start entering your county name into the form. Select your county and state from the drop-down list.

Now your County page pops up.

There are 58 counties in California. There are bird lists for each county. The county with the most birds recorded in California is Los Angeles County with 547 species. The county with the least birds recorded is Tuolumne County with 258 species.

From this County page there are 3 selections that I want to share with you. They are Printable Checklist, Illustrated Checklist, and Hotspots.

1. Printable Checklist

The Printable Checklist is exactly what it sounds like. It is a basic bird checklist of all birds with eBird records in the county, state, or country you choose. It is a professional looking checklist, too. You can print it double-sided on card stock, if you wish, for a quite nice and durable bird checklist.

Bird checklists are useful to keep track of birds in your backyard as you identify them. Or, you may want to print a new list for each time you take a bird watching outing.

But this type of list doesn't help you figure out if a bird in your backyard is common or rare. For that, you need the next type of checklist.

2. Bar Charts

Bar charts combine the species list with abundance over time. The thickness of the line (or bar) indicates how frequently a bird is seen. A thicker bar indicates a common bird. A thin line indicates a rare bird. No lines are shown when the birds are absent or not recorded.

In the case of the eBird bar charts, there is a space for every week of the year. There is room for 52 lines, or bars, in each chart. This way, you can tell, week by week, how common birds are in California, even in each county.

One feature that I like on the county page is the Illustrated Checklist. It is a bar chart for the county. But it also includes photos of birds that have been taken in the county. That way, for unusual birds, I can see the plumage. Are most of the records for breeding males or perhaps dull-looking immatures? That will let me know exactly what I am looking for when I am out in the field. Of course, I always like to add photos to the Illustrated Checklist if any are missing. But that is easier to do with the following list.

3. Hotspots

Hotspots are public bird watching areas with their own species checklists and bar charts. Sometimes these are very famous birding sites with thousands of bird watchers visiting per year. Other hotspots are very rarely visited by birders. These will give you an idea of what other birds (not just backyard birds) may be found near you.

There are hundreds of hotspots in every state. Each county is likely to have numerous hotspots, too. There is a list of the top 100 hotspots in each location. Otherwise, use the map to find every hotspot.

You can also request a birding hotspot be added to the data. Last year I added a good-sized city park to my county, only a half mile from my home. I have been adding bird sightings—and lots of photos--to it regularly, even though hardly anyone else visits. A couple of years ago I added a very small botanic garden to a hotspot list in the desert. People view the Hotspot on the eBird website and now dozens of people per year add bird sightings to that new hotspot.

You may also like my eBird tutorial with illustrations.

Once you start viewing your backyard birds in California, you may find that you want to look for more types of birds than just backyard birds. Then you're on your way to exploring the wildlife in a larger world. There are birds everywhere you go. Different ones in every location. In fact, 10,000 of them. That's enough for several lifetimes of joy just to see them once!

All this because you were curious as to what birds were in your backyard!

Next: Backyard birds of Colorado

You may be interested: Bird books for each individual state in the US

Related: 34 of the most common birds in the United States (with photos)

Feeding winter birds in California

Please also check out my recommended products page. There I maintain a list of the best feeders, bird foods, binoculars, bird baths, fountains, books and other bird watching items.

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