Monday, July 15, 2019

25+ Common backyard birds of California (Photos/ID)

[Updated July 2021] 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, in order, are these:

  1. House Finch
  2. Black Phoebe
  3. Anna's Hummingbird
  4. American Crow
  5. Mourning Dove
  6. California Scrub-Jay
  7. White-crowned Sparrow
  8. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  9. California Towhee
  10. Song Sparrow
  11. European Starling
  12. Lesser Goldfinch
  13. Bushtit
  14. Spotted Towhee
  15. Dark-eyed Junco
  16. American Robin
  17. Northern Mockingbird

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

Continue reading to see additional common birds, and common birds at other times of year.



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. 

These lists are based on the citizen science program eBird, using data of actual bird sightings.

Many of the most common backyard birds are residents, but there are seasonal differences as well.

The next parts list birds at different times of the year, starting again with the year as a whole.


Most common backyard birds in California throughout the year

The following list is the backyard birds that, on average, are most common throughout the entire year. The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often birds are recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.

The most common backyard birds in California throughout the year 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%)
  18. Bewick's Wren (18%)
  19. Northern Flicker (18%)
  20. Nuttall's Woodpecker (17%)
  21. Red-winged Blackbird (17%)
  22. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (16%)
  23. Acorn Woodpecker (16%)
  24. Oak Titmouse (15%)


Most common backyard birds in California in winter

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 following list is the backyard birds that are most common in winter. The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often birds are recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.


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


Most common backyard birds in California in summer

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 following list is the backyard birds that are most common in summer. The list is ordered by most common based on the frequency of how often birds are recorded on checklists submitted to eBird.


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


1. House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus

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


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


Range in California: House Finches are very common year-round throughout California.

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 not territorial, but males sing throughout the year--a lively, wiry song ending in a couple of buzzy notes.

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

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


2. Black Phoebe

Sayornis nigricans

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


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


Range in California: Black Phoebes are found year-round most abundantly in the Central Valley and middle coastal and southern California. Otherwise they may be found in lower areas away from high mountains.

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. 

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: Black Phoebes eat 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.


3. Anna's Hummingbird

Calypte anna

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


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


Range in California: Anna's Hummingbirds are year-round residents throughout California.

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 California 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. 

Nest early (December to February), even as they colonize northward and encounter snow in winter.

Food and feeder preference: Nectar and small insects is the main food of Anna's Hummingbirds. Both are available in flowering plants. Quickly find hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water.


4. American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

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


Photo of American Crow
American Crow. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: American Crows are year-round residents throughout California except high mountains and barren deserts.

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. 

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, American Crows 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.


5. Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura

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


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


Range in California: Mourning Doves are year-round residents throughout most of California, but move to lower elevations in winter.

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. 

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.


6. California Scrub-Jay

Aphelocoma californica

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


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


Range in California: California Scrub-Jays are year-round residents found below the mountains and west of the deserts.

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 California to Washington state. 

They forage on the ground, caching food in fall to save for later winter.

Food and feeder preference: California Scrub-Jays are 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.


7. White-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia leucophrys

A common winter visitor to backyards throughout the United States.


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


Range in California: White-crowned Sparrows have 3 breeding populations and an additional form in winter. Year-round residents live on the northern and central California coast, and in the northern High Sierras. A widespread northern form winters abundantly throughout California, October to April.

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. 

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: White-crowned Sparrows eat weed seeds, grain, insects. Eat black oil sunflower seeds and other seeds on hopper and tray feeders.


8. Yellow-rumped Warbler

Setophaga coronata

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


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


Range in California: Yellow-rumped Warblers breed in the higher mountains and winter throughout the state.

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. 

They tend to forage in outer branches about half way up the tree.

Food and feeder preference: Yellow-rumped Warblers eat 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.


9. California Towhee

Melozone crissalis

This is a plain but common bird in California.


Photo of California Towhee
California Towhee. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: California Towhees are year-round residents mostly below the high mountains and west of the deserts.

Identification: 

Size: Longer than a European Starling or Red-winged Blackbird. Smaller than an American Robin. 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 California Sur to SW Oregon. 

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: California Towhees eat primarily seeds and insects. They will eat mixed seeds in a tray feeder or on the ground under the feeder.


10. Song Sparrow

Melospiza melodia

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


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


Range in California: Song Sparrows are year-round residents throughout, except the southern deserts. Northern birds, breeding in Canada, winter throughout, including the southern deserts.

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.

Forages on ground, never far from low cover to which they fly if startled.

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



11. European Starling

Sturnus vulgaris

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.


Photo of European Starling
European Starling. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: European Starlings are year-round residents throughout the state.

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. 

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: European Starlings eat 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.


12. Lesser Goldfinch

Spinus psaltria

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


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


Range in California: Lesser Goldfinches are year-round residents except in highest northern mountains.

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. 

They sometimes gather into flocks of hundreds to feed in weedy fields.

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


13. Bushtit

Psaltriparus minimus

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 white sock hanging in the tree. They are made of lichens and similar plant material and hair, held together by spider webs.


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


Range in California: Bushtits are year-round residents in much of the state, but absent from high mountains and southern deserts.

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. 

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: Bushtits 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.


14. Spotted Towhee

Pipilo maculatus

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


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


Range in California: Spotted Towhees are year-round residents in most areas, but leave the mountains in winter and leave the deserts in summer.

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. 

They scratch for food on the ground, turning over leaf litter under bushes.

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


15. Dark-eyed Junco

Junco hyemalis

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


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


Range in California: Dark-eyed Juncos breed in high mountains and coastal conifers the length of the state; they winter throughout.

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 (those breeding in California and pictured above) have jet black hood over head, brown back, white belly and pink sides. Females paler.

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. 

Spend much of their time hopping and feeding on the ground.

Food and feeder preference: Dark-eyed Juncos eat 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.


16. American Robin

Turdus migratorius

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


Photo of American Robin
American Robin. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: American Robins breed in the mountains and in the northern part of the state; they winter throughout, including deserts near water, and lawns anywhere.

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. 

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: American Robins eat earthworms and other invertebrates in the lawn. May eat fruit from a tray feeder or the ground. Eat small berries from trees and bushes.


17. Northern Mockingbird

Mimus polyglotos

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.


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


Range in California: Northern Mockingbirds are year-round residents throughout much of California. They are absent from conifer forests and mountains. In summer some birds are found farther north.

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. 

They are found in eastern and southern parts of the US, West Indies, and south into Mexico.

They boldly defend their nests from other birds, cats, and intruders.

Food and feeder preference: Northern Mockingbirds eat 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.


18. Bewick's Wren

Thryomanes bewickii

This is a brush-loving bird that may hide in your backyard hedges.


Photo of Bewick's Wren on stick
Bewick's Wren. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Bewick's Wrens are year-round resident throughout most of California. They are winter visitors only in the southeastern deserts.

Identification:

Size: These are fairly small birds, about the size of House Finches.

Shape: They are rather stocky, with short neck, long floppy tail, fairly long legs.

Bill: Long, thin, slightly curved.

Color: Different populations can be more gray or more brown. Barred brown and black tail. Pale gray under parts. The white eyebrow is diagnostic.

Habitat, range, and behavior: These birds are found in brushy tangles, chaparral, backyard bushes.

These birds live along the West Coast from southern British Columba southward into Mexico, the Southwest, east to Missouri.

They stay hidden in dense brush except in spring when they sing loudly from exposed perches.

Food and feeder preference: Bewick's Wrens eat primarily insects and invertebrates. They will come to feeders in winter for suet.


19. Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

This ant-eating woodpecker spends a lot of time hopping and probing on the ground. This behavior confuses many beginners who don't know what to make of the long bill, red wing linings, and white rump. When the males drum loudly on their downspouts at dawn in spring, then they know it's a woodpecker!


Photo of Northern Flicker on stump
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Northern Flickers are year-round residents throughout most of California. They are summer residents only in parts of the Central Valley. They are winter visitors only in the southeastern deserts.

Identification: 

Size: About the size of a Mourning Dove. Larger than a robin. 

Shape: Stocky with short legs, short tail, big head. 

Bill: As long as head, thin, slightly curved. 

Color: Back is brown with black bars. Under parts pinkish with black spots. Undersides of black wing and tail feathers are bright salmon red (West) or yellow (East). Head gray (West) or brown (East) and males with red (West) or black (East) whisker marks and nape marks (East). Black crescent across chest. White rump seen in flight.

Habitat, range & behavior: Found in woodland edges and forests. 

Year-round resident from extreme southern Canada, across all of the lower-48 states and in the mountains of Mexico and Middle America. In summer breeds northward well into Canada and Alaska. 

Frequently noted hopping on ground pecking in the ground for insects. In late spring, males proclaim their territory by rapid pounding on a hollow tree branch, though the ringing of metal downspouts at dawn is louder and carries much farther, to the exasperation of anyone trying to sleep inside!

Food and feeder preference: Ants and beetles are their primary foods. Will eat black oil sunflower seeds and are attracted to suet.


20. Nuttall's Woodpecker

Picoides nuttalli

This woodpecker is nearly endemic to California. They extend only a few miles into Mexico, south of San Diego.


Photo of Nuttall's Woodpecker on branch
Nuttall's Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Nuttall's Woodpeckers are year-round residents throughout much of California, below the mountains, and west of the southern deserts. They are also absent in the damp northwestern conifer coastal region.

Identification:

Size: These are small woodpeckers, smaller than Acorn Woodpecker, smaller than an American Robin.

Shape: Stocky. Short neck. Short pointed tail. Strong feet.

Bill: Short stout pointed bill, shorter than head.

Color: Black above with many white bars on back and wings. Under parts white with many black bars and spots on sides and flanks. Tail black with white outer tail feathers. Face predominantly black with two white lines back from eye and back from bill. Red hind crown on male.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Found in oak chaparral and riparian sycamore trees. Common in residential areas within that habitat.

Range from northern California to southern California and into Mexico south of San Diego. West of deserts.

Food and feeder preference: Nuttall's Woodpeckers feed on invertebrates and acorns. Will come to platform feeders for sunflower seeds and nuts.


21. Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Regulus calendula

These tiny little hyperactive balls of feathers are very similar in appearance to sluggish Hutton's Vireos. Note the yellow feet and skinny black legs of the kinglet.


Photo of Ruby-crowned Kinglet on twigs
Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Ruby-crowned Kinglets nest in the high mountains of northeastern California. They leave those mountains in the winter, and are found everywhere else in the state in the non-breeding season.

Identification:

Size: Smaller than a chickadee or goldfinch.

Shape: Plump, almost round body with round head merging into the body almost without neck. Very short tail. Thin legs.

Bill: Very short, rather thin.

Color: Olive-green, tending toward gray, especially on the head. Paler yellow-green below. Wing gray with yellow-green edges to the wing feathers. Two white wing bars with distinctive black panel below the lower wing panel. White eye ring slightly broken on top and bottom. Red crown of male only shows when agitated. Legs very thin, black, with obvious yellow soles to the feet.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Mountain conifers in summer, brushy patches and chaparral in winter. Residential landscaping hedges and bushes.

Breeds in Alaska, across Canada, and mountains of the West. Migrates through all of US. Winters in coastal East, Southeast, West, into Mexico.

Active flitting from branch to branch, in interior of bushes and small trees, in short flap-hops. Constantly twitches wings. Hover-gleans at leaf tips.

Food and feeder preference: Ruby-crowned Kinglets feed in bushes next to house looking for spiders and insects. May eat at suet feeder.


22. Acorn Woodpecker

Melanerpes formicivorus

Did you know that this bird is the basis for the cartoon Woody Woodpecker? Just add a crest!


Photo of Acorn Woodpecker on post
Acorn Woodpecker. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Acorn Woodpeckers are year-round residents in oak woodlands in California, below the high mountains, west of the southern deserts.

Identification:

Size: These birds are a bit bigger than European Starlings with which they compete for nest holes. Much smaller than Northern Flickers.

Shape: Stocky with large head and bill. Short tail. Short legs; large strong feet.

Bill: About as long as head. Stout, straight, and pointed.

Color: Black back, wings, tail. White rump. White wing patches. White under parts with black band across chest with streaks down sides. Face white with black chin and hind head. Male has red crown; female has black crown and red hind-crown.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Found in large stands of mature oaks, pine/oak woodlands.

Found from western Oregon, south through California, mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, Big Bend area of west Texas, south in mountains of Mexico.

Small colonies tend a granary tree where they store and defend tens-of-thousands of acorns, wedged into the bark.

Food and feeder preference: Acorn Woodpeckers may visit bird feeders for sunflower seeds, suet, and nuts.


23. Oak Titmouse

Baeolophus inornatus

These are plain gray birds of oak woodlands. In fact, not long ago their name was Plain Titmouse, before they were divided into two species--the Oak Titmouse and the Juniper Titmouse.


Photo of Oak Titmouse in tree top
Oak Titmouse. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Oak Titmouses are year-round residents below the high mountains, west of the southern deserts, away from the treeless Central Valley, and away from the damp northwestern coastal region.

Identification:

Size: These are smaller birds, the size of chickadees.

Shape: They are shaped as chickadees, but more stout. The crest can be raised or lowered and is not always very noticeable.

Bill: Short and stout.

Color: Pale gray-brown throughout.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Found in oak woodlands, especially live-oaks.

These birds are found from southwestern Oregon, through California, to northern Baja California.

They slowly crawl and hop through dense twigs, often twisting and reaching their necks. Do not flip their tails around as much as chickadees.

Food and feeder preference: Will eat sunflower seeds and nuts from hopper feeders.


24. Golden-crowned Sparrow

Zonotrichia atricapilla

In winter, Golden-crowned Sparrows have a dully striped crown, very similar to the brown-and-tan crown pattern of White-crowned Sparrows in their first winter.


Photo of Golden-crowned Sparrow on bush
Golden-crowned Sparrow. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Golden-crowned Sparrows are winter visitors throughout most of California except for the southeastern deserts.

Identification:

Size: These are the same size as White-crowned Sparrows, a larger sparrow.

Shape: These are the same shape as White-crowned Sparrows. They are fairly large and long-tailed sparrows.

Bill: Short and stout conical bill. Dark colored.

Color: Tan brown above and striped with dark brown and pale gray on the back. Under parts gray with buff warm tones on the flanks. Breeding crown has yellow center (dull in winter) outlined with black. In winter the crown is finely streaked brown with a yellow tinge on the fore crown.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Boreal and tree line for breeding. In winter, tangles in woodland edges, brushy roadside edges with small saplings.

These sparrows breed from Alaska to southern British Columbia. They spend the winter from southern British Columbia to northern Baja California.

They tend to spend the winters in flocks with White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. They come out into the open to feed on the ground, such as a road edge, then flush back to into the tangles when disturbed.

Food and feeder preference: They eat more buds and plant material than White-crowned Sparrows. They love black oil sunflower seeds at hopper and platform feeders.


25. Cliff Swallow

Petrochelidon pyrrhonota

These colonial-nesting birds build gourd-shaped mud nests on cliffs, under the eaves of barns, and under highway overpasses. You will most often notice them in flight.


Photo of Cliff Swallow on fence wire
Cliff Swallow. Greg Gillson.


Range in California: Cliff Swallows are summer residents throughout California, except spring and fall migrants only in the southeastern deserts.

Identification:

Size: Small birds, smaller than House Finches, larger than American Goldfinches.

Shape: In flight note round head, short square tail, pointed wings.

Bill: Short, wide.

Color: Dark blue back with pale stripes, dark wings and tail. Pale under parts. Large buff rump patch. Crown dark blue. Throat dark rusty. White forehead.

Habitat, range, and behavior: Fly over open country, canyons, farmlands.

In summer they occur nearly everywhere from Alaska and Canada southward through Mexico. Leave entire region in winter.

Fly high chasing bugs, skimming over ponds, trapping them against cliffs. In spring you may note them at mud puddles scooping up bills full of mud to build their nests. In fall migration more likely to be noted on roadside wires.

Food and feeder preference: Feed on flying insects. Do not occur at feeder.





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. Greg Gillson.


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

  1. House Finch (61% frequency)
  2. Mourning Dove (54%)
  3. Black Phoebe (50%)
  4. Anna's Hummingbird (44%)
  5. American Crow (41%)
  6. Northern Mockingbird (39%)
  7. Yellow-rumped Warbler (39%)
  8. Lesser Goldfinch (39%)
  9. California Towhee (38%)
  10. Common Raven (36%)
  11. Bushtit (35%)
  12. California Scrub-Jay (34%)
  13. Allen's Hummingbird (33%)
  14. Mallard (32%)
  15. White-crowned Sparrow (30%)
  16. Red-tailed Hawk (29%)
  17. House Sparrow (27%)
  18. European Starling (27%)
  19. American Coot (26%)
  20. Song Sparrow (25%)
  21. Rock Pigeon (24%)
  22. Spotted Towhee (21%)
  23. Bewick's Wren (20%)
  24. 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. Greg Gillson.


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

  1. Anna's Hummingbird (54%)
  2. White-crowned Sparrow (50%)
  3. Western Gull (49%)
  4. Black Phoebe (41%)
  5. Song Sparrow (40%)
  6. House Finch (40%)
  7. Common Raven (39%)
  8. America Robin (38%)
  9. Rock Pigeon (37%)
  10. Yellow-rumped Warbler (32%)
  11. Dark-eyed Junco (32%)
  12. Pygmy Nuthatch (31%)
  13. American Crow (30%)
  14. Chestnut-backed Chickadee (29%)
  15. California Towhee (28%)
  16. Double-crested Cormorant (27%)
  17. Red-tailed Hawk (27%)
  18. California Scrub-Jay (26%)
  19. Mallard (25%)
  20. European Starling (24%)
  21. Golden-crowned Sparrow (22%)
  22. Brewer's Blackbird (21%)
  23. Townsend's Warbler (20%)
  24. 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 (www.ebird.org). 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 (https://ebird.org/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.






4 comments:

  1. I had my front door open this morning and a male house finch flew inside while I had my back turned. I heard it flapping against the vertical blinds. I also have two Siberian Huskies and the younger one was quite interested, and I had to try to capture the finch without hurting it, and keeping the dogs away. After three attempts at letting him alight and get calm, I grabbed a facemask to drape over his wings. I softly rubbed the top of his head and spoke to him as I walked him outside. Once released, another came swooping after him as he veered off beyond an orange tree. Neat experience.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We have noticed brilliant bluebirds this Spring on the Central Coast. Don't believe I'd seen them before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Could be Western Bluebirds or Lazuli Buntings. Very similar in plumage, but the bunting will visit your seed feeder.

      The bluebirds are resident, the buntings are migrating now.

      Delete

Thank you so much for visiting! Would you please leave a comment to let me know what you thought and how I can make this resource better for you?

--Greg--

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