Have you wondered what those birds are that are visiting your backyard in California? Do you need help identifying common backyard birds in California?
There is a great joy in putting up bird feeders and watching what comes to visit but it gets better if you know who they are. Well, now you can find out what are the most common birds in California that visit feeders or hop across your lawn.
Mourning Doves and Lesser Goldfinch are more common birds in summer in California and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black Phoebes and Ruby-crowned Phoebe’s are more common birds in winter in California.
So if you’re ready to do some backyard birding in California then read on to find out how to identify birds and how to attract more birds to your yard.
Also, get free printable bird worksheets with pictures for California to help you identify and keep track of the birds that visit your backyard.
Top 26 backyard birds in California
- Yellow-rumped Warbler
- White-crowned Sparrow
- House Finch
- Mourning Dove
- Black Phoebe
- Anna’s Hummingbird
- American Crow
- California Scrub-Jay
- California Towhee
- Lesser Goldfinch
- Song Sparrow
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Spotted Towhee
- American Robin
- Dark-eyed Junco
- European Starling
- Golden-crowned Sparrow
- Northern Flicker
- Northern Mockingbird
- Barn Swallow
- Stellar’s Jay
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Western Bluebird
- Say’s Phoebe
- Chestnut-backed Chickadee
The California Quail is the state bird of California. This bird was chosen in 1931 by the Audubon Society. It is a plump bird with a black plume on its head and it spends most of its time on the ground foraging.
There are 710 species of bird recorded in California according to ebird. Some of the highlight birds in California include Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane, White-faced Ibis, Rough-legged Hawk, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Golden Eagle, Snowy Egret, Red-shouldered Hawk, California Quail, Western Tanager, Brown Pelican, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Harrier, and Cedar Waxwing.
The biggest bird in California is the California Condor, with a wingspan of up to 8 feet (3 m). These immense black birds have white under the wings and a naked red head.
The smallest bird in California the Calliope Hummingbird which is only about 3 in long, but they can travel long distances from Canada all the way to southern Mexico.
The most common bird in California is the House Finch, which is seen in 44% of recorded checklists for the state on ebird throughout the year.
California has 9 national parks, 20 national forests, 36 national wildlife refuges, and 280 state parks that offer excellent bird watching opportunities if you want to get out and watch birds in their natural environment.
Read to the end of this article to find out more about the other birds you may be able to spot if you go out birding in California and how to attract and identify birds.
Top 28 backyard birds in California
1. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warblers are gray with flashes of yellow on the face, sides, and rump and white in the wings. Females may be slightly brown and winter birds are paler brown with bright yellow rumps and sides turning bright yellow and gray again in spring.
After breeding predominantly in Canada they migrate in large numbers south across most of southern and central North America and the Pacific Coast and throughout Mexico and Central America.
You can attract Yellow-rumped Warblers to your backyard with sunflower seeds, suet, raisins, and peanut butter.
2. White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrows are large grayish sparrows with long tails and small bills and bold black and white stripes on their heads.
They breed in Alaska and arctic Canada before heading south other much of the lower 48 and Mexico for winter. Some may remain all year over a small area along the Pacific Coast and west.
White-crowned Sparrows can be found in weedy fields, along roadsides, forest edges, and in yards foraging for seeds of weeds and grasses or fruit such as elderberries and blackberries.
You can attract more White-crowned Sparrows to your backyard with sunflower seeds and many types of seeds that are dropped by other birds at the feeders.
3. House Finch
House Finches have a red head and breast in the males and brown-streaked coloring in the females. Originally only in western states it was introduced to the eastern states and has done very well, even pushing out the Purple Finch.
They can be found in parks, farms, forest edges, and backyard feeders. They can be found in noisy groups that are hard to miss.
You can attract more House Finches to backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds or nyjer seeds in tube feeders or platform feeders.
4. Mourning Dove
Mourning Doves are graceful small-headed birds, plump bodies and long tails. They are a soft brown with black spots on the wings.
They can be seen perching on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground in grasslands, fields, and backyards. Mourning Doves can be found in open areas or on the edge of woodland. Mourning Doves are common over all of the lower 48 all year but may migrate after breeding from the far north.
You can attract more Mourning Doves to your backyard by scattering millet on the ground or on platform feeders. They will also eat black sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, and peanut hearts.
5. Black Phoebe
Black Phoebes are small, plump flycatchers that are black on the back, head, and chest and white underneath. They are mostly resident across southwestern states, Mexico and Central America but some in the north of their range may migrate south after breeding.
Black Phoebes can usually be found near water such as coastal areas, rivers, lakes, or ponds. They perch above the ground and wait for insects or arthropods to come along, such as beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, flies, bees, and spiders.
To attract Black Phoebes to your yard try adding water features and native plants to attract insects. They may also build a nest under the eaves if there is a source of mud nearby to build their nest out of.
6. Anna's Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbirds are tiny birds that are mostly green and gray. The male’s head and throat are iridescent reddish-pink the female’s throat is grayish with bits of red spotting.
Unusually Anna’s Hummingbirds do not migrate and are the most common hummingbird along the Pacific Coast. They make a dramatic dive display during courtship as the males climb up to 130 feet into the air before diving back to the ground with a burst of noise from their tail feathers.
They can be found near large colorful blossoms during the spring and readily visit hummingbirds feeders that you can fill with homemade hummingbird food and they may visit feeders all year.
7. American Crow
American crows are large all-black birds that make a hoarse, cawing sound. They are common birds that can be found in most habitats including treetops, woods, fields, beaches, or towns.
They eat most things and usually feed on the ground eating earthworms, insects, seeds, and fruit. They also eat fish, young turtles, mussels, and clams and will even eat eggs and nestlings of many species of birds.
American Crows gather in large numbers of up to two million crows in winter to sleep in communal roosts.
You can attract more American Crows to your backyard by scattering peanuts but can become a nuisance as attracted by garbage or pet food if left out.
8. California Scrub-Jay
California Scrub-Jays are large songbirds with long tails, whitish undersides and rich blue and gray backs, and a bright blue breast band. They are larger than a robin but smaller than a crow. They look visually similar to the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay but with more vivid colors.
They can be found in scrub, oak woodlands, and in suburban yards and parks along the Pacific Seaboard. California Scrub-Jays eat insects and fruit during spring and summer and then seeds and nuts, especially acorns in fall and winter.
To attract more California Scrub-Jays to your backyard try sunflower seeds and peanuts in your feeders.
9. California Towhee
California Towhees are large, brown, plump sparrows with long tails, short wings, and a rusty patch under the tail. They are found in the coastal chaparral scrub areas of California, Oregon, and Baja California. They will also visit backyards and sit on fenceposts and will chase their reflections in car mirrors or windows.
California Towhees’ diet is mostly seeds from grasses and herbs, but they also eat berries such as elderberry, coffeeberry, and acorns.
To attract more Califonia Towhees to your yard try millet on ground feeders and also native berry plants.
10. Lesser Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinches are tiny bright yellow and black songbirds with long pointed wings and short notched tails. Females have olive backs and are more dull yellow underneath.
Residents in the far southwest, with those to the north of their range breeding then migrating further south.
Lesser Goldfinches can be found in large flocks in open habitats including thickets, weedy fields, forest clearings parks, and gardens. They forage for seeds, especially sunflower seeds, but also fruits from elderberry, coffeeberry, and buds from cottonwoods, willows, sycamores, and alders.
You can attract more Lesser Goldfinches to your yard with sunflower seeds and nyjer in tube feeders or platform feeders.
11. Song Sparrow
Song sparrows are not as remarkable as other backyard birds but these predominantly brown-streaked birds use their almost constant song to attract mates in spring and summer.
They can be found in open, shrubby, and wet areas often perched on a low shrub singing. They are often found at backyard feeders. Song Sparrows eat a wide variety of insects and plants including beetles, caterpillars, midges, spiders, and earthworms. They will also eat buckwheat, sunflower, raspberries, wild cherries, blackberries, wheat and, rice.
You can attract more song sparrows to your backyard feeders by putting black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and nyjer on platform feeders.
12. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglets are small songbirds that are olive-green and the males have a brilliant red crown that is usually flat so hard to see, but really great if you do.
They breed across Canada and the western mountains before migrating to southern and southwestern states and Mexico for the winter. They can also be seen during migration when they are widespread.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets can be hard to spot and they are fast-moving quiet birds that flit around in the foliage of lower branches and of shrubs and trees looking for spiders and insects.
They come to suet feeders or platform feeders for hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, and mealworms.
13. Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhees are large sparrows that are black on the head, throat, and back in the males and brown in the females. Both males and females have reddish-brown sides and white bellies and white spots on the wings and back. They have long tails and are about the size of a Robin.
Spotted Towhees can be found on the ground in dense tangles of shrubs scratching around for insects including beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, wasps, and bees. They also eat acorns, berries, and seeds.
They are resident on the Pacific coast but migrate from northern central states after breeding and appear in winter in a swath from north to south across all central states.
You can attract more Spotted Towhees to your yard if you leave overgrown borders and they will visit platform feeders or ground feeders for Black Oil Sunflower seeds, Hulled Sunflower seeds, Cracked Corn, Millet, and Milo.
14. American Robin
American Robins are a common sight on lawns eating earthworms. They have black heads and back with red or orange breast. They tend to roost in trees in winter so you are more likely to see them in your backyard from spring.
American Robins can be found in many habitats, from woodlands, forests, and mountains to fields, parks, and lawns. They eat earthworms, insects, snails, and fruit.
You can attract more American Robins to your yard with sunflower seeds, suet and peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms. Platform feeders are best or food scattered on the ground. Also try planting some native plants that produce berries such as juniper, sumac, hawthorn, and dogwood.
15. Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Juncos are sparrows that are different colors depending on the state. They are generally slate-colored in the east and black, white, and brown in the west.
They can be found in open and partially wooded areas often on the ground and are common across the continent. Some remain resident all year in the west and in the Appalachian Mountains. Those that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south in winter to much of the United States.
You can attract more Dark-eyed Juncos to backyard feeders with a variety of seeds such as black oil sunflower seeds, nyjer, cracked corn, millet, and peanuts. Platform feeders or scattered on the ground are best.
Bushtits are tiny, almost round, soft gray birds with a long tail and stubby bill. They have slight brown tinges to the face and underneath.
Bushtits live in open woodland or scrubby areas, parks, and backyards. Their diet is insects and spiders, such as caterpillars, beetle, wasps, and ants. They make an amazing hanging nest out of plant material and spider webs that hang down about a foot and may take a month to build.
To attract more bushtits to your yard plant native shrubs and trees and they may visit feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds, suet, or mealworms from platform feeders.
17. European Starling
European Starlings are not native but are now one of the most numerous songbirds. They are stocky black birds with iridescent purple, green, and blue tones.
Considered a pest by some due to their aggressive behavior these birds fly in large noisy flocks and can be seen perched in groups on the top of trees or flying over fields in flocks.
Starlings eat predominantly insects including beetles, flies and caterpillars, earthworms, and spiders. They also eat fruit including cherries, holly berries, mulberries, Virginia Creeper, sumac, and blackberries, as well as grains and seeds.
You can attract more European Starlings to your backyard feeders with black oil sunflower seeds, suet, cracked corn, and peanuts.
18. Golden-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrows are grayish-brown underneath and streaked brown on the back. Their heads have a black crown and a bright-yellow forehead. In winter the colors are duller with brown on the crown and the yellow forehead is also duller.
They breed in Alaska and far western Canada before migrating to the West Coast for winter. In winter they can be found in weedy fields scratching for seeds such as dock, sumac, and geranium and they also eat fruit such as apple, grape, elderberry, and olives. Insects also make up some of their diets, such as ants, beetles, butterflies, and termites.
You can attract more Golden-crowned Sparrows to your backyard with seeds in ground feeders or plant native plants that fruit.
19. Northern Flicker
Northern Flickers are large woodpeckers, between the size of a robin and a crow, with brownish coloring and black spots, bars, and crescents and red on the nape. The undersides of tail and wing feathers are bright yellow in eastern birds and red in western birds.
They can be found on the ground looking for ants and beetles in woods or forest edges. Those that breed in Canada or Alaska migrate to southern states but otherwise, they can be found all year over the lower 48.
You can attract more Northern Flickers to your backyard feeders with suet and black oil sunflower seeds.
20. Northern Mockingbird
Northern Mockingbirds are medium-sized songbirds with a small head and long tail. They are a gray-brown color and slightly paler on the underside compared to the back. They have two white wingbars visible in flight.
They are usually seen alone or in pairs and aggressively defend their territory. A male mockingbird can learn around 200 songs in its life, copying other birds’ songs and they can sing all through the day and into the night.
Usually resident in southern and eastern states but may migrate from the north of their range.
They don’t often visit feeders but will come to open lawn areas. To attract more Northern Mockingbirds try planting fruiting trees or bushes, including hawthorns, mulberries, and blackberry brambles.
21. Barn Swallow
Barn Swallows are small birds with a deep-blue back, wings and tail, and reddish-brown underneath and across the face. The tail has long outer feathers that give a deep fork.
They breed over most of North America before heading to Central and South America. They can be found flying over meadows, farms, and fields looking for insects and usually build mud nests on man-made structures such as in barns.
You can attract more Barn Swallows by putting up nest boxes or cups and may eat ground-up eggshells on a platform feeder.
22. Stellar’s Jay
Steller’s Jays are large songbirds with black triangular crests that stick up from their heads. The rest of their heads and onto their chests and back are black, with the rest of their bodies being blue.
They can be found in evergreen forests in the mountains and they will also be found around picnic tables, campgrounds, and backyard feeders. They make nests out of mud.
Stellar’s Jays eat most things they can forage for, including insects, seeds, nuts, berries, eggs, and nestlings, but also making a nuisance of themselves around garbage and your unguarded picnic!
Stellar’s Jays can be attracted to your backyard with peanuts and suet.
23. Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged blackbirds are very common and easy to identify with the all-black coloring except for the bright red and yellow shoulder patches. The females are rather dull in comparison with brown streaky coloring.
They can often be spotted sitting on telephone wires and the males will fiercely defend their territories in the breeding season even attacking people that get too close to nests. In winter they roost in large numbers into the millions. Red-winged Blackbirds are resident over most of the U.S but they may migrate after breeding from the far north.
To attract more Red-winged blackbirds to your backyard try mixed grain and seeds spread on the ground. They will also feed on large tube feeders or platform feeders.
24. Western Bluebird
Western Bluebirds are very social small stocky thrushes that are shiny blue on the back and rust-orange on the breast and across the upper back in the males. Females are not so bright, instead, they are a dull buff-gray, with pale orange on the breast and blue tints to the wings and tail.
Western Bluebirds are often residents but some in the far northwest may migrate south or to lower elevations. They tend to live in woodlands rather than open areas and are readily found in areas that have dead trees such as burned forests and logged areas.
The diet of Western Bluebirds is mostly insects in summer and fruit and seeds in winter. Caterpillars, beetles, and ants, as well as spiders and snails or other ground-dwelling insects, are common summer food. Elderberry, grapes, mistletoe, raspberries, blackberries, sumac, juniper plus more make up their winter diet.
To attract more Western Bluebirds to your yard offer mealworms in summer and put up a nest box, also plant berry plants such as elderberry, raspberries, and juniper.
25. Say’s Phoebe
Say’s Phoebes are slender, long-tailed flycatchers that are brownish-gray above and with a cinnamon belly, gray breast, and blackish tail.
Dry open country including badlands, canyons, and desert borders are the usual habitat of Say’s Phoebes. These birds breed in Alaska, northwestern Canada, and the northern U.S before migrating south to southwestern states and Mexico. Those in southern states remain all year.
Say’s Phoebe’s are flycatchers and their diet is mostly insects such as beetles, crickets, bees, and flies. They often nest on buildings and can be seen perched on fence posts and around buildings or in the nest under an eave.
To attract more Say’s Phoebes to your yard put up a nest box or a shelf attached to a building to encourage nesting and plant native trees and shrubs.
28. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadees are tiny birds with black and white on their heads, rich chestnut on the back, and gray wings and belly.
They live flocks in wet evergreen forests along the Pacific Coast and are regular visitors to backyard feeders. Insects including caterpillars, spiders, wasps, and aphids make up most of their diet, with seeds, berries, and fruit making up the rest.
You can attract Chestnut-backed Chickadees to your yard with black-oil sunflower seeds, suet, nyjer, peanuts, or mealworms in tube feeders, platform feeders, or suet cages. They will also use nest boxes.
These free bird identification worksheets have all the common backyard birds in California at different times of the year. So when you want to do some backyard birding these handy guides have pictures and space to either tick off the types of birds you have seen or keep a tally of the total number of birds.
Common Birds In California in Different Seasons
The birds listed above are the backyard birds most often seen in California that may visit your lawn or feeders. They are the birds that appear most frequently on state checklists on ebird and the data is a combination of birds most frequently spotted in California in summer (June and July), winter (December and January), and throughout the year.
Birds that are not often seen at feeders or in backyards were removed to give you the birds in California you are most likely to see from home. This data mix ensures that whatever time of year you are backyard birding in California these are the birds you will most likely spot at feeders or on your lawn.
The birds that are attracted to backyards in California change throughout the year. The lists below show the backyard birds that are most commonly seen at different times of the year in California.
Notable differences show that Mourning Doves and Lesser Goldfinch are more common birds in summer in California and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black Phoebes and Ruby-crowned Phoebe’s are more common birds in winter in California.
Best Bird Feeders to Attract Birds in California
A variety of different bird feeders will attract the most species of birds
- Tube Feeders can be filled with different types of birdseed and depending on the seed different birds will be attracted. Black oil sunflower seeds attract Goldfinches, Chickadees, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Pine Siskins.
- Ground Feeders or a tray below a Tube Feeder with Black oil sunflowers tube feeders attract Cardinals, Jays, Finches, and Sparrows.
- Platform feeders with Millet or Corn attract small and medium-sized birds such as sparrows, Blackbirds, Towhees, Juncos, Doves, Grackles, and Starlings.
- Peanut feeders attract Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmice, Jays, Juncos, Finches, and Sparrows.
- Suet Feeders are great, especially in winter, for Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Kinglets, Wrens, and Chickadees.
- Hummingbird feeders attract these tiny fascinating birds but they also attract other birds too.
How to Attract Birds to Your Yard in California
If you would like to attract more birds to your yard in California there are some tips:
- Provide bird feeders for different types of birds to get the most species to visit your yard.
- Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream. Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant
- Grow native plants that will provide food and shelter. Plants, trees, and shrubs that provide fruit, berries, and nuts. Blackberries, wild grasses, elderberries, serviceberries, Oaks, Beeches, Cherries, sumacs, hemlocks, Purple Coneflowers, Sunflowers, Milkweed, Cardinal Flowers, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Virginia Creeper, Buttonbush, and Dogwoods.
- Let your grass grow long to provide cover and seeds.
- Leave a brush pile to provide food, protection, and nesting opportunities for birds.
- Don’t use pesticides and herbicides as these may be toxic to birds and prevent the natural foraging opportunities for insects and seeds that birds will seek in your yard.
- Set up nest boxes to attract breeding birds and ensure they are cleaned every year.
How to Identify Birds in California
Here are some tips to help you identify birds:
- Size – Size is the easiest thing to notice about a bird. Birds are often measured in inches or centimeters in guide books. It’s best to take a note of the bird in terms of small, medium, or large to be able to look for it later. A small bird is about the size of a sparrow, a medium bird is about the size of a pigeon and a large bird is the size of a goose.
- Shape – Take note of the silhouette of the bird and jot it down or draw the outline. Look at tail length, bill shape, wing shape, and overall body shape.
- Color pattern – Take a note of the main color of the head, back, belly, and wings, and tail for the main color and then any secondary colors or patterns. Also take note of any patterns such as banding, spots, or highlights.
- Behavior – Are they on the ground or high up in the trees. Are they in flocks or on their own? Can you spot what they are eating?
- Habitat – Woodlands, parks, shrubs, grasslands or meadows, shore or marsh.
- Use a bird identification app such as those created by ebird or Audubon
Birds to Spot if Out Birding in California
If you go out Birding in California these are other birds that you may be able to spot:
- Red-tailed Hawk
- Turkey Vulture
- Bald Eagle
- Sandhill Crane
- White-faced Ibis
- Rough-legged Hawk
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Great Egret
- Great Blue Heron
- Golden Eagle
- Canada Goose
- Snowy Egret
- Red-shouldered Hawk
- Pied-billed Grebe
- California Gull
- Orange-crowned Warbler
- American Kestrel
- California Quail
- Western Tanager
- Brown Pelican
- Northern shoveler
- Cooper’s Hawk
- Belted Kingfisher
- Northern Harrier
- Western Grebe
- Black-necked Stilt
- Cedar Waxwing