California is a state with picturesque vacation spots. From Hollywood to Disneyland to surfing beaches, the state has it all.
And if you’re craving a birdcation…
The birds of California won't disappoint! With a chart-topping 673 bird species documented, you can score easy bird sightings at incredible birding locations— including your backyard!
But where’s the fun in backyard birding if you don't know the bird species visiting your bird feeder?
Identification is an essential part of birding. Hence, we’ll explore the birds visiting your backyard. After reading this, you will learn what birds are visiting, how to attract them, and what they eat.
- Bird Watching in California
- Endangered and Threatened Birds in California
- Common California Backyard Birds
- 10. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- 11. California Towhee
- 16. Bushtit
- Frequently Asked Questions
Bird Watching in California
As the third-largest state in the United States, California has a staggering diversity of habitats. Little wonder about 673 bird species have been officially recorded there.
California’s spot along the pacific flyway makes it an eminent migratory route for millions of birds yearly. It offers homey habitats, avian stopovers, feed, and nests at different spots across the state’s wetlands. Hence, as a Californian birder, you can always be treated to an enthralling view of birds.
Despite the variety of habitats, however, some bird species are still much imperiled.
Endangered and Threatened Birds in California
About 314 birds in North America are endangered or threatened. 170 of them are common birds in California. The danger threatening these birds calls for urgent attention. But first, what does the term endangered and threatened species mean?
According to the Endangered Species Act, endangered birds are prone to extinction all over or in sizable portions of their range. On the flip side, threatened species mean the birds risk becoming endangered in the foreseeable future.
Having clarified these two terms, let’s continue with our list.
1. Allen’s Hummingbird
This backyard favorite is an endangered species. A projection reveals Allen’s Hummingbird is bound to lose over 60% of its suitable climate range in California. Unfortunately, this western bird’s breeding range is predominantly in California.
2. Burrowing Owl
The Burrowing Owl is a diurnal, small bird, unlike most nocturnal owls. The development of renewable energy and farming messes with its natural habitat in the imperial valley.
3. California Condor
Native Californians adore this bird species because it’s a critical part of their traditional myths. Unfortunately, it’s critically endangered. Its decline results from poaching, habitat destruction, and lead poisoning.
Common California Backyard Birds
1. Yellow-rumped Warbler
As a slightly large avian, the sight of a Yellow-rumped Warbler in your backyard is elegant. Its dashing slaty color with white streaks on the wings and flashes of yellow offers a spectacular scene.
In spring, the sharp color dulls into a subtle beauty.
This overactive bird forages at middle height in tree canopies. It sallies out to snack on insects in midair.
During winter, it devours berries off shrubs. Yellow-rumped Warbler resides in open coniferous forests in summer. But it takes to shrubby habitats and open woods when the temperature drops.
Migratory in nature, Yellow-rumped breeds in Canada before migrating to the south across the Pacific Ocean, Central America, and Northern and South America.
You can attract this bird with suet, raisins, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter.
2. Black Phoebe
This bird lives close to rivers, ponds, and the costa line. You are more likely to find a Black Phoebe in Central Valley and Southern California. Such habitat generates mud for its nests. And the environment also attracts insects for food.
This bird seems comfortable gallivanting around humans. So, you will find it in neighboring parks— so long as there’s a water source.
It has black plumes and a contrasting white underside. Pretty attractive and tiny.
The Black Phoebe’s main diet is flying insects like grasshoppers, dragonflies, flies, etc. If you’ve ever seen it fanning its tail while dipping, it’s scanning for food.
Its song sounds like shrill whistles, loud and defined. To have this bird grace your yard, you need to incorporate water features. And introduce native plants that attract insects. If you have mud around, they may make themselves comfortable by building a nest.
3. White Crowned Sparrow
Smartly patterned with grayish and hints of white and black head, White Crowned Sparrow is an indelible species.
You’ve probably seen this avian hopping and running while foraging. It sometimes makes short flights to snatch an insect in midair. However, it moves in flocks during nesting season.
They often winter in North America.
White Crowned Sparrow is common in forest edges, weedy fields, and backyards. Their primary diet includes fruits like blackberries and elderberries and seeds.
A White-Crowned Sparrow will visit a feeder with seeds and grains like oat and corn.
4. House Finch
The twittering song that heralds its presence is soothing. Besides their cheery vocals, the males' rosy-red heads and females' brown streaks will add colors to your backyard.
House Finch’s adaptability aided their spread in eastern North America as new arrivals. Like most common California backyard birds, it frequent bird feeders.
It forages on the ground, perching on weeds or shrubs and trees.
This avian’s primal diet is vegetative matter. It relishes weed seeds and sometimes buds.
The House Finch thrives in an array of habitats. Depending on the location, you may find it in conifers, lawn, stables, dry desserts, and oak savannah in the west, their native range.
This bird will visit any feeder with nyjer seeds and black oil sunflower seeds in a platform or tube feeder.
5. Anna’s Hummingbird
This bird is the most common California hummingbird. Although it’s merely 4-inches, it’s the largest California hummer bird.
Males flaunt an iridescent rosy red with a green and gray body. The female's bright green and gray splashes of red at the throat region.
In North America, Anna’s Hummingbird is one of the earliest breeders. Being one of the birds in Southern California, it parades Los Angeles bird feeders often.
This bird is nonmigratory. And it has an interesting courtship behavior displayed by the males: the males dive from a 130 feet perch with a loud noise from their flappy tails.
You’ll find this bird in colorful blooms, backyards, and parks. To make them an all-year-round visitor to your backyard, make sure your hummingbird feeder contains food.
It also feeds on nectar, insects, and sugar water mixture from feeders.
6. Mourning Dove
Mourning dove is highly popular for its mournful call.
Guess that explains the name.
It mimics that of an owl— you may mistake it for one! This small, heeded bird has a subtle brown plumage with black spots. Its plum body is a sharp contrast to the much smaller head.
You have probably caught sight of one perching on a telephone wire. It’s also common to see it foraging on the ground in open fields and, of course, your yard.
Although they hardly migrate, some move after breeding from the far north. Nonetheless, you can have a mourning dove as a regular visitor in your backyard.
Unbothered by human presence, you may watch them feed off millets or cracked corn in your backyard.
7. American Crow
This sizable, intelligent American avian staple is famous across the continent.
Once you hear the cawing sound, you know the American crow is around the corner. Its peculiar methodical flight style entails flapping wings without any frequent glide breaks.
This adaptable bird explores both human-made and natural habitats. You will find it floundering in open fields, parks, cemeteries, yards, and empty beaches.
The American Crow’s diet is unfiltered. It eats foods like nuts, seeds, insects, and fruits. It also hunts nestlings and seafood like young turtles, fishes, etc.
Its ability to intelligently socialize and work together in groups to devise solutions to problems is a curse and a blessing. The curse: well, you may find American Crow large flocks constituting nuisance on your lawn. The benefit: It’s a fascinating sight.
You can attract them to your yard with peanuts, but this can quickly escalate into having large flocks rummaging through your garbage.
8. California Scrub Jay
California Scrub Jay is showy in brilliant azure blue marked with bits of gray and a white underside.
The bird remains a fixture of backyards, shrub spots, and oak woodland.
You’ll have a field day watching these creatures. They are playful and vocal while lunging and hopping in your yard.
California Scrub Jay has different diets depending on the season. In spring and summer, they eat fruits and insects. However, fall and winter switch their diet to acorns and other seeds.
Attract these California birds to your feeder with sunflower seeds or peanuts.
9. Lesser Goldfinch
This small bird sports sharp yellow colors with green. You may find this songbird in thickets, open woodland, parks, yards, etc.
Lesser Goldfinch enjoys sunflower seeds and fruits like coffee berries, elderberries, and buds from sycamores, alders, and cottonwoods.
Lesser Goldfinch is a chippy little bird. It prances around the neighborhood as it feeds with its tail dancing in the air.
You can attract this bird to your backyard with nyjer seeds and sunflower seeds. Ensure you use a platform or tube feeder.
10. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Summering in high conifers makes the Ruby-crowned kinglet a rare sight. But during migration and in winter, you may find it frantically foraging in shrubs, parks, or deciduous forests.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet is olive green with a visible eye-ring. It has white and black wing bars. This acrobatic bird quietly scurries through foliages, flickering its wings.
And when excited, the males raise their lucid ruby-red crowns— this sight is always a spectacle. It forages at varying levels. From tiptop conifers to the low bush in search of food. Kinglets hunt insects in midair; they eat berries and fruits in winter.
If you’d love to sight a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, provide some sunflower seeds and mealworms in your yard.
11. California Towhee
California Towhee is a matte brown with a distinct patch highlighting the tail’s underpart. This bird adapts well to humans and any habitat. So, you’ll find it in coastal scrublands, thickets, and brushy habitats around parks.
Their flight is ungainly as they seem to expend massive wing power on short distances. But cheerily hop and run around.
You may find them on your backyard fence post often. However, don’t be surprised to see a California Towhee chasing its reflection in a window or car mirror.
Insects make up most of their diet in the summer season. But they fall back on seeds and berries.
California Towhee attends to bird feeders with millet, native berry plants, and other seeds.
12. American Robin
While American Robin isn't a migratory bird, it's a wanderer. This bird is one of the birds in southern California. You may find it scouring your lawn with a cocked head in search of worms.
The warm-orange breast and black back American Robin is a lovely birding sight to anticipate.
They have a cherry song to add colors to your spring and summer. Ever heard a melodious string of whistles in spring? It’s the American Robin ushering in the new season.
American Robin visits parks, backyards, woodland, mountains, etc.
It snacks on invertebrates like earthworms and seeds. But its diet isn’t limited to these two. The wide variety of fruits in its diet includes chokeberries, juniper berries, hawthorn, etc.
They are also strong with fast flights when they aren’t foraging on the ground.
Plant some native plant that yields berries like dogwood, hawthorn, etc to attract them. Sunflower seeds, mealworms, and fruits will also invite them to your feeder.
13. Dark-eyed Junco
The Dark-eyed Junco is one of the common California birds. Their appearance varies depending on the state. Western Dark-eyed Juncos are brown, black, and white, while the eastern breeds are slate-colored.
Its breeding habitat is mixed woodlands or coniferous forests, and it frequents bush edges or clearings. A Junco’s winter habitat includes brushy paths and woodland edges.
The males have a habit of singing from high perch to mark their nesting territory. But Dark-eyed Junco forages in backyards for seeds when it isn't marking its territory.
So, you may improve the chance of hosting this bird by leaving some seed nyjer, millet, and cracked corn on the ground.
14. Song Sparrow
As one of the backyard birds of Northern California, Song Sparrow frequents Northern California. Frankly, this bird isn't the most remarkable. But it’s a friendly backyard buddy.
It’s slightly bulky with a medium size. And having a streaky brown color with a warm-brown head is rare– making it easily identifiable.
You can run into Song Sparrow perched on a shrub on the edge of a forest or marshland. They typically prefer open habitats. And nest in residential areas close to human settlements.
It flits through dense bushes, scanning the ground for food. Their food includes a wide range of insects and seeds.
Scatter nyjer seeds, sunflower seeds, or cracked corn on a platform feeder to attract this bird.
15. Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee is a large sparrow with a striking jet-black back in males, while the females have grayish-brown backs in place of the gleaming black. Their colors have splashes of white stripes and dots.
They hop in and out of dry leaves. Sometimes, you can barely differentiate between the leaves and their rufous flanks. Your best chance of catching an unobstructed sight is when the males perch on shrub tops singing buzzy songs in spring.
Spotted Towhee navigates dense tangles on the ground, searching for insects. It also enjoys seeds, berries, and acorns.
Towhees are migratory birds that move from Northern Central regions post-breeding season.
This common California backyard bird will visit if your yard has shrubby or brushy paths. Place your feeders close to a vegetated edge to attract Spotted Towhees to fallen seeds. And these birds prefer feeding off the ground.
Bushtit is a tiny bird with soft gray hues and a clipped stubby bill. This bird whizzes through vegetation, making soft twitters repeatedly. Bushtit often hangs upside down on trees to snatch insects off leaves.
This bird also weaves hanging nests with succulent materials like spider webs and grasses. You’ll find bushtit nesting in dry shrublands, oak forests, suburbs, and woodlands.
It frequently forages with lively flocks and other birds like chickadees, warblers, and kinglets.
Attracting this bird species to your yard might be a tricky deal. But since they almost always feed on insects, you can invite them to your backyard by planting native shrubs and trees. Also, sunflower seeds, suits, and other bird seeds may earn you a visit.
17. European Starling
It’s hard to tell that European Starling isn’t a native. This songbird is medium-sized, characterized by triangular wings. Their black color shines with iridescent tones of purple, blue and green. It’s a comely sight,
Despite this feature, most people have a love-hate relationship with European Starling. The bird makes it difficult not to.
Mobbing lawns in flocks and bullying other birds is one of their many aggressive tactics.
It lives around people and forages in open fields. Starlings eat anything, including invertebrates and garbage. Like other birds, they relish an enormous array of fruits and seeds.
Attracting European Starling to your yard might scare off other birds. But if you want their shiny feathers gracing your yard, throw some cracked corn, peanuts, and sunflower seeds into your feeder.
18. Northern Flicker
The Northern Flicker is one of the largest woodpeckers in North America. It has a slim head, a long bill with a slightly tapered long and flared tail.
This woodpecker has brown plumage with black crescents and spots all over. There’s also a defined white rump patch noticeable in flight. The tail’s underside is yellowish in eastern species and orange in western birds.
When a Northern Flicker isn't rummaging the floor for ants and insects, it perches uprightly on trees. Like most common birds of California, it favors open habitats like parks, woodlands, forest edges, etc.
In the west, it resides in mountain forests.
You can invite a Northern Flicker to your backyard bird feeder with suits and sunflower seeds.
19. Stellar’s Jay
The distinctive feature of a Stellar’s Jay is its crest that stands tall on its head. This large bird has a clunky body and a long-angled bill.
Its head is charcoal black while the back is blue. It has a white marking around its eye, but it's inconspicuous.
Stellar’s Jay flits through the forest canopy. And like other Jay’s, its intelligence is undeniable.
It forages through forest grounds scanning the floor food and satisfying its curiosity by investigating visitors.
You can find this bird in evergreen forests. They also visit campgrounds, parks, and backyard feeders. So, they excavate their nests with mud.
Stellar’s Jay isn't a fussy eater. So, they eat berries, seeds, nuts, nestlings, and sometimes garbage.
You can attract them to your backyard feeder with suits and peanuts.
20. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a tiny bird. It has a brilliant chestnut plumage, black, and whiteheads with sooty bellies and wings.
They often hang upside down on cones, perching on twigs and small limbs.
Chestnut-backed Chickadees flock with Nuthatches and Kinglets.
You can find this bird in evergreen forests close to the pacific coast like the Central Valley. It can also frequent your backyard feeder. So, look out for the bright chestnut color. They snack on insects like caterpillars, wasps, spiders, and aphids.
It also enjoys fruits, seeds, and berries.
You can host this bird in your backyard with a nest box. And don't forget to treat it to a backyard feeder filled with peanuts, mealworms, suits, sunflower seeds, etc.
21. Say’s Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe is a long-tailed flycatcher. The taupe-colored bird has a cinnamon-washed belly with a black tail and hoary breast.
Undaunted by people, Say’s Phoebe may saunter into parks, backyards, and parks.
It sallies from low perches to hunt insects in midair. And sometimes, it digs for insects on the floor.
Say’s Phoebe resides in desert borders, badlands, and canyons. After breeding in Northern America, this bird migrates to the Southwestern states.
Its primary diet is insects like bees, beetles, and crickets. You’ll find their nests on buildings while they hang around fence posts or under an eave.
Mount a shelf or nest box on a building to egg Say’s Phoebe onto your yard. Planting native shrubs and trees also help.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How many birds are native to California?
There are 450 bird species commonly seen in California. This record-breaking number makes California one of the states with a massive diversity of birds.
What is California's state bird?
Valley quail, alternatively called California quail, has been the California state bird since 1931.
What is the rarest bird in California?
The California condor is the rarest bird in California. It’s currently listed as a critically endangered species by the international union for the conservation of nature.
Birds are lovely creatures. Having them perching and chirping in your backyard is a soothing experience. Although your yard isn’t Huntington beach, you can score tiptop birding views there.
However, the inability to identify the bird species impedes the fun. But with the California bird identification guide, you are more than ready for your backyard birding.
Remember to furnish your yard with bird essentials. You sure wouldn't love to treat the pretty avian guests improperly.