Birds can be surprisingly large, especially if they spread their wings to an immense size and there are some very large birds in California.
- The largest bird by weight in California is the Wild Turkey at 381 ounces
- The largest bird by length in California is the Trumpeter Swan at 72 inches
- The largest bird by wingspan in California is the American White Pelican at 110 inches
These are the largest birds in California in order by weight but check out the lists at the end to find out those largest by size and wingspan.
With their impressive size they should be fairly easy to spot, but how many can you find?
26 Large Birds In California:
1. Mute Swan
Mute Swans are non-native species in California but they can be spotted in the state all year.
Mute Swans are one of the largest and heaviest flying birds. They are non-native and were introduced to grace ornamental lakes and ponds but now have escaped into the wild and bred. They cause problems for native wildlife and can be aggressive.
They are entirely white, with long, graceful necks, orange bills with a large, black basal knob, black around the base of the bill, and black legs. Adults look alike, although males are larger than females.
- Cygnus olor
- Length: 56 – 62 in (142 – 157 cm)
- Weight: 416 oz (11789 g)
- Wingspan: 84 – 96 in (213 – 244 cm)
You can find numerous Mute Swans in city parks, protected bays, and lakes. You may also find them on shallow wetlands, rivers, and estuaries.
Mute Swans spend most of their time floating on water. They forage for underwater vegetation, and this is their staple diet when on water. They may also forage for food on land, feeding on grass and agricultural crops.
Mute Swans Call:
Fun Fact: Adult swans are highly protective of their young and will aggressively defend them when they sense danger or threats. They will hiss as a warning and will immediately chase and attack the predator if the warning is ignored.
2. Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swans are considered rare or accidental species in California but there have been occasional sightings in the state mostly during winter.
The Trumpeter Swan has the distinction of being the longest and heaviest living bird native to North America. It is also recognized as the heaviest flying bird in the world.
Trumpeter Swan adults are entirely white except for their black bills, legs, and feet. There is a black patch on their face, seemingly connecting their eyes to their bills. Their heads and neck may occasionally show some rust-brown coloring because of their contact with iron elements in wetland soils.
Juvenile Trumpeter Swans are mostly dusky-gray, with a pink center on their black bills.
- Cygnus buccinator
- Length: 58 – 72 in (147 – 183 cm)
- Weight: 401.6 oz (11381 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 102 in (183 – 259 cm)
You can find Trumpeter Swans in marshes, lakes, and rivers with dense vegetation. They breed in open areas near shallow waters. They are sometimes seen on agricultural fields, too.
In water, Trumpeter Swans usually eat aquatic plants and vegetation, which they can reach with their bills underwater. With their long necks, they are able to reach plants in deeper water, even going as far as tipping, like a dabbling duck, to get at their food.
Trumpeter Swans Call:
Fun Fact: Trumpeter Swans generally mate for life. When nesting, there is always one adult that stays with the nest. They are both territorial and aggressive when it comes to protecting their nesting area.
3. Wild Turkey
Wild Turkeys are introduced species in California and they are found in the state all year. They occur in around 3% of summer and winter checklists.
Wild Turkeys are the ancestors of domesticated turkeys and the heaviest among Galliformes. Their bodies look spherical and plump when they’re puffed and preening.
Adult male Wild Turkeys have small, bald, red-and-blue heads with fleshy growths called caruncles. They have red wattles hanging from their necks and throats.
They have snoods (a fleshy flap on the bill) that expand, elongate, and change color depending on their emotions, like when they’re excited or threatened.
Males have long, dark brown fanned tails with rusty or chestnut tips. Their body feathers are blackish or dark but usually have a glossy combination of red, purple, green, copper, bronze, and gold.
Adult female Wild Turkeys are smaller than males and they’re less colorful, mostly having bodies with shades of brown and gray.
- Meleagris gallopavo
- Length: 43.3 – 45.3 in (110 – 115 cm)
- Weight: 88.2 – 381.0 oz (2500 – 10800 g)
- Wingspan: 49.2 – 56.7 in (125 – 144 cm)
You can find Wild Turkeys in mature, mixed forests with oaks and pines with a good balance of cover and openings. Pastures, fields, and orchards are usually preferred habitats.
Wild Turkeys usually forage on the ground for acorns, nuts, and other seeds and berries. They scratch around and under leaves on the ground but sometimes they also climb shrubs and low trees for fruits. They also eat salamanders, snails, beetles, and other insects. They may visit backyard feeders too.
Fun Fact: Male Wild Turkeys court in groups. They puff their feathers, spread their tails, and gobble to attract females. Watch the colors of their heads and necks change depending on a Wild Turkey’s mood.
4. California Condor
California Condors are critically endangered species, and although not very common, they have been spotted in California all year along the southern coast.
The California Condor is the largest North American land bird. It is a critically endangered species with only about 500 living individuals as of 2020.
California Condors are very large birds of prey. They resemble airplanes when in flight because of their broad wings, which they hardly flap at all. Their primary feathers also look like long “fingers” as they’re spread out when in the air.
They have yellow skin coloring on their heads and necks. The color can change from yellowish to red during courtship or when it’s angry or distressed. They have pinkish air sacs in the throat and near the breast area, which puff out during courtship or for aggressive displays.
- Gymnogyps californianus
- Length: 46 – 52 in (117 – 132 cm)
- Weight: 356.8 oz (10, 112 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 108 in (183 – 274 cm)
You can find California Condors in a variety of habitats as they need open or semi-open grasslands, scrublands, and woodlands for foraging and nesting. They also need as much as 6,000 feet of elevation and open and windy areas, like cliff edges or exposed tree branches, to give them high perches for launching into flight.
The California Condor normally uses thermals, or upward currents of warm air, to gain height and keep them soaring in the air.
California Condors are carrion eaters. Carrion is flesh from any decaying animal. They eat medium to large-sized dead animals, preferably those recently killed or died. These animals include sheep, deer, elk, horses, sea lions, and whales.
California Condor calls: They are usually silent, but can make some grunts, hisses, or snorts.
5. American White Pelican
American White Pelicans are spotted all year in California, especially from July to January. They occur in up to 5% of summer and winter checklists.
American White Pelicans are large soaring birds that have the second-largest average wingspan of any North American bird.
Non-breeding adult American White Pelicans are white all over, except for black flight feathers that are only visible when in flight or when the wings are spread. Breeding adults grow a yellow plate on their upper bills, like a horn.
- Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
- Length: 60 – 63 in (152 – 160 cm)
- Weight: 246.4 oz (6983 g)
- Wingspan: 96 – 110 in (244 – 279 cm)
American White Pelicans breed in remote lakes inland in North America before spending the winter on the southern Pacific Coast of the US, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, and Central America. They can be spotted during migration in western and central US states.
You can find American White Pelicans in shallow freshwater lakes, wetlands, and edges of lakes and rivers. In the winter, you can find them in coastal bays, inlets, and estuaries where they forage in shallow water and rest on sandbars.
American White Pelicans mostly eat fish. They swim on the surface and capture their prey through their huge bills.
American White Pelican calls: These birds are usually silent or only make a few grunts. However, the young can be noisy in the large colonies begging for food.
Fun Facts: The long and huge bill of the American White Pelican is capable of holding three gallons of water. When it scoops up fish from the sea, it tilts its bill down to drain the water so it can then swallow the fish that’s left inside its throat sac.
6. Canada Goose
Canada Geese are spotted in California all year. They are recorded in 13% of summer checklists and 18% of winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
Canada Geese are large, long-necked geese recognized for their black head and easily identifiable white chin straps, and loud honking calls.
Their bodies are brown with a tan or pale chest and white rump. The color of the bodies among the subspecies may be shades of gray or brown. Their legs and webbed feet are black.
- Branta canadensis
- Length: 25 – 45 in (64 – 114 cm)
- Weight: 230.09 oz (6521 g)
- Wingspan: 70 – 75 in (178 – 190 cm)
As their name would suggest, Canada Geese breed in Canada and migrate for the winter to southern US states, but those in northern US states remain all year and do not migrate. They are also found in western Europe.
You can find Canada Geese practically anywhere. They are often seen near lakes and rivers, basically, anywhere there’s a body of water and an abundant food source.
In some places, their population has risen considerably and they’re considered pests.
Canada Geese mainly eat grasses when they’re on land and small aquatic insects and fish when they’re on the water, but will raid your trash can if they can.
Canada Goose Call:
Fun Fact: During the breeding season, adults lose their flight feathers because it coincides with their molting season. They only regain their feathers after twenty to forty days, just in time for them to fly with their young.
7. Common Crane
Common Cranes are extremely rare in California and are considered accidental species in the state. They were last spotted around Staten Island in 2021.
Common Cranes are tall gray birds with red patches on their black and white heads and long feathers at the rear.
Females are slightly smaller than males and juveniles are generally gray all over with patches of brown.
- Grus grus
- Length: 44 – 5 1 in (112 – 130 cm)
- Weight: 193.6 oz (5487 g)
- Wingspan: 79 – 91 in (201 – 231 cm)
The Common Crane or the Eurasian Crane is often found in Eurasia but is considered an accidental vagrant to the United States. They most likely migrate together with flocks of Sandhill Cranes.
You can find Common Cranes in wet meadows, forest clearings, wetlands, bogs, fields, and meadows with small lakes and ponds. During migration, they are also found on open, agricultural land.
Common Cranes are omnivorous so they can eat both plants and animals, but prefer plants except during the breeding and nesting season when they eat more animals.
Common Crane Calls:
Interestingly, while Common Cranes mate for life, they still perform their courtship rituals every time during the mating and breeding season. They perform elaborate dance rituals and vocalizations.
Fun Fact: The male Common Crane incubates the eggs during the day and the female takes over at night.
8. Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles can be spotted all year in California. They are recorded in up to 2% of summer and winter checklists.
The Bald Eagle is a widely-recognized bird of prey. It has a white head, yellow eyes, and a large, hooked yellow bill. Its body is chocolate brown, and its legs are yellow, with huge talons.
Females look similar to males, except they’re about 25% larger. Juveniles have dark brown heads and bodies with variable white mottling or streaking until they reach their fifth year.
- Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Length: 34 – 43 in (86 – 109 cm)
- Weight: 168 oz (4761 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 96 in (183 – 244 cm)
Bald Eagles breed predominantly in Canada and then migrate to the United States for winter. However, some remain resident all year, especially in coastal regions.
You can find the Bald Eagle, during its breeding season, in wetland environments. Open and large bodies of water with plenty of fish are ideal spots.
Bald Eagles are opportunistic feeders and will eat what is available. Their favorite food is fish, and they prefer large ones, like trout and salmon, but also take birds and mammals. They may hunt these fish themselves or steal them away from other birds.
Bald Eagle Calls: The squeak of the Bald Eagle does not fit its size as they make a rather disappointing high-pitched whistle!
Fun Fact: The Bald Eagle has been the national symbol of America since 1782. It may be named “bald,” but it isn’t actually bald. The old version of “bald” actually meant “white,” referring to its white head and tail.
9. Golden Eagle
Golden Eagles can be found all year in California, but their numbers increase during winter from October to April. They appear in 1% of winter checklists.
Golden Eagles are the most widely distributed eagles in the world. Their crown and nape (neck) are golden-brown and are a sight to behold when in the right light.
Their bodies are darker brown but with pale flight feathers. Their eyes vary from light yellow to dark brown and are ringed in yellow.
While adults look similar, females are larger than males. Juveniles are also similar, but they tend to have a darker color.
- Aquila chrysaetos
- Length: 27 – 38 in (69 – 97 cm)
- Weight: 160 oz (4534 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 96 in (183 – 244 cm)
Golden Eagles that breed in Canada and Alaska migrate south for winter to the United States and northern Mexico. However, Golden Eagles in western US states remain all year.
You can find Golden Eagles in mountainous habitats far above the treelines. They also inhabit canyons, riverside cliffs, and bluffs when nesting. They generally prefer to avoid human presence.
Since Golden Eagles are birds of prey, naturally, they’d prey on small to medium-sized animals like rabbits, prairie dogs, and hares. On occasion, they may also hunt and take down larger prey like cranes, swans, and domestic livestock.
They usually hunt in pairs, with one chasing down the prey until it gets tired, and then the other swoops in for the kill.
Golden Eagle Call: The main calls that are made by Golden Eagles are during the breeding season when chicks are begging, and parents respond. Otherwise, they are pretty quiet. They make high-pitched whistled calls.
Fun Fact: The Golden Eagle, the Rough-legged Hawk, and the Ferruginous Hawk are the only American birds of prey that have feathers on their legs up to their toes.
10. Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Cranes breed in the northeast of California then they migrate across the rest of the state for winter. They are most common from October to mid-March and occur in 1% of checklists at this time.
Adult Sandhill Cranes are tall, gray heavy-bodied birds with very distinctive bright-red crowns and white cheeks and necks. They have long black bills and long, black legs. They have heavy-looking, droopy feathers at the back.
Breeding adults may have more rusty or tan coloring on their gray bodies. Juveniles, on the other hand, are rusty brown without any white cheeks or red crowns.
- Antigone canadensis
- Length: 34 – 48 in (86 – 122 cm)
- Weight: 132.27 oz (3749 g)
- Wingspan: 73 – 90 in (185 – 229 cm)
Sandhill Cranes breed in Alaska, Canada, and northern and central US states before migrating to southern US states for winter.
You can find Sandhill Cranes during winter in shallow lakes, irrigated croplands, pastures, and grasslands. From spring to summer, they move to and stay in their breeding grounds in open wetland habitats with shrubs or trees.
Sandhill Cranes are omnivores and feed on both land and water. When on land, they eat seeds, grains, berries, and tubers. When on water, they will pluck out plants from the water, or probe through mud and vegetation for amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals with their long bills.
Sandhill Crane Calls:
Fun Facts: Sandhill Cranes find their mates by performing unison calling (loudest and most noticeable calls) and through dancing rituals. They are monogamous and mate for life.
11. Brown Pelican
Brown Pelicans can be found all year in California and are mainly spotted along the coast. They appear in up to 8% of summer and winter checklists.
Brown Pelicans are easy to identify with their large bills and throat pouches and brown bodies. They have white heads and necks with pale yellow foreheads. Their pale, long bills are part yellow, part orange and they have short, black legs and webbed feet.
Juveniles have brown heads, necks, backs, and wings and bluish-gray bills.
The differences between the Pacific and Atlantic Brown Pelicans are more obvious during the Breeding Their napes’ color turns from white to dark brown but Atlantic Brown Pelicans have olive-brown throat pouches, while Pacific Brown Pelicans have red skin on their throat pouches.
- Pelecanus occidentalis
- Length: 48 – 50 in (122 – 127 cm)
- Weight: 131.2 oz (3718 g)
- Wingspan: 78 – 84 in (198 – 213 cm)
Brown Pelicans either breed and migrate or are resident all year along the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coasts of North America and down to northern South America.
You can find Brown Pelicans around shallow water environments. They live year-round in estuaries and coastal marine habitats. You can also see them in mangrove islets and on sandbars, breakwaters, and offshore rocks when they’re resting.
Brown Pelicans have a unique foraging ability that makes them stand out. They can dive into deep ocean water to capture their prey in their throat pouches. When they surface, water drains from their pouches, allowing them to swallow their catch immediately.
Brown Pelican calls: Adults are usually silent, except for the occasional grunt, but juveniles will squark to beg for food.
Fun Fact: Brown Pelicans incubate their eggs by covering them using their webbed feet but the pesticide DDT caused the thinning of the eggshells and led them to break from the weight. It took a huge conservation effort to re-establish the number of Brown Pelicans.
12. Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Herons are very common in California and are spotted in the state all year. They occur in 13% of summer checklists and 16% of winter checklists.
Great Blue Herons are very large, majestic birds that are the largest heron native to North America. Their pale gray bodies can look white in flight.
They have a white face with a black crest or plume that extends from the front of their eyes to the back of their heads. Their bills are yellow-orangish and they have long gray necks with black and white streaking in the front, pale grayish-blue bodies with dark wingtips, and long gray legs.
- Ardea herodias
- Length: 46 – 52 in (117 – 132 cm)
- Weight: 128 oz (3628 g)
- Wingspan: 77 – 82 in (196 – 208 cm)
Great Blue Herons remain in most US states all year, but those that breed in the Mid-West and Canada migrate south.
You can find Great Blue Herons in many wetland environments. They can be present in fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove swamps, flooded marshes, lake edges, or shorelines.
Great Blue Heron Call:
Fun Fact: Great Blue Herons defend their feeding territory with dramatic wing outstretched displays, with their heads thrown back.
13. American Flamingo
American Flamingos are introduced species in California and although they are not very common, there have been occasional sightings in the state all year.
Flamingos with their flamboyant pink feathers and long necks and legs are iconic but those in the United States are probably escaped from zoos or private collections rather than native birds.
American Flamingos are large wading birds with webbed feet to stir up the bottom and bills that are curved downward to sieve through the surface of the water.
- Phoenicopterus ruber
- Length: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 78 – 99 oz (952 g)
- Wingspan: 45 – 48 in (114 – 122 cm)
You can find American Flamingos in shallow brackish water. They are social birds that are found in the thousands.
American Flamingo calls:
Fun Fact: American Flamingos turn pink due to the pigment in their food, which includes algae and shrimp.
14. Wood Stork
Wood Storks have been occasionally spotted in California all year, especially along the southern coast of the state. However, they are not very common here.
Wood Storks are large wading birds that belong to the Ciconiidae family and are the only ones that breed in North America.
Their heads and necks are dark gray, scaly, and without feathers.
Their bodies are white except for the black flight feathers. Their bills are long, thick, and curved downward. Their legs and feet are dark and during the breeding season, their flesh-colored toes turn pink
Males and females look similar. Juveniles have grayish, feathered heads and pale, yellow bills.
- Mycteria americana
- Length: 35 – 45 in (89 – 114 cm)
- Weight: 96 oz (2721 g)
- Wingspan: 65 in (165 cm)
Wood Storks remain all year around the Gulf Coast and southern Atlantic coast, but may move inland for breeding. They are also found in Central and South America.
You can find Wood Storks in open forested wetlands. During the breeding season, they prefer areas with a lot of trees, especially Taxodium trees, that are along a water’s edge. Water levels should be about four to twelve inches deep for them to forage successfully.
That is why swamps, ponds, marshes, and mangrove forests are ideal places to find them.
Wood Stork Calls:
Fun Fact: Wood Storks used to be called “wood ibis” because its head looks like an ibis. It has also been known as American Wood Stork because it is found in the Americas.
15. Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls are very common in California and are spotted in the state all year. They are recorded in up to 3% of summer and winter checklists for the state.
Great Horned Owls are one of the most common owls in North America.
Their most unique physical characteristic is their “Great Horns” which aren’t really horns but ear tufts. They’re tufts of feathers that they use as camouflage to make them appear like branches of trees.
The coloring and patterns of Great Horned Owls are also mainly for camouflage. Their backs and wings are mottled with gray, brown, black, or white.
- Bubo virginianus
- Length: 18.1 – 24.8 in (46 – 63 cm)
- Weight: 32.1 – 88.2 oz (910 – 2500 g)
- Wingspan: 39.8 – 57.1 in (101 – 145 cm)
Great Horned Owls are widespread throughout North America and do not migrate.
You can find Great Horned Owls in almost any environment in North America. As long as they have nesting sites, roosting sites, and an abundance of prey, they will be able to adapt to forests, deserts, grasslands, or cities.
Their varied diet includes small rodents such as mice, skunks, geese, and hares. They will also eat insects, fish, and carrion. They hunt from a perch, scanning their territory and swooping down to capture their prey with their strong talons.
Great Horned also hunt other raptors such as Ospreys, Peregrine falcons, or other owls.
Great Horned Owls: The distinctive 5-note Hoo call of the Great Horned Owl is made by both males and females, but females are higher pitched. They also make various whistles, shrieks, hisses, and coos.
Fun Fact: Great Horned Owls are the crows’ number one enemy. Crows will usually mob Great Horned Owls in their nests, and that is one of the best ways to find them.
16. Black Vulture
Black Vultures are considered rare or accidental species in California, but they have been spotted here all year.
Black Vultures are considered the blackest of all the vultures. Their backs, wings, breasts, bellies, and tails are black, although they have silvery patches on the underside of their wings that make it look like they have fingers when in flight.
The Black Vulture has a gray, featherless head and neck that look like wrinkled skin. Their eyes are brown and they have grayish-white legs.
- Coragyps atratus
- Length: 23 – 27 in (58 – 69 cm)
- Weight: 76.8 oz (2177 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 60 in (137 – 152 cm)
You can find Black Vultures in open areas of lowland and middle elevations. They are often seen in forested landscapes and roost in wooded areas that are close to water.
Black Vultures eat practically anything, but mainly they eat carrion or decaying animals. They may be able to see dead animals on the ground themselves, but they usually rely on other scavenger birds to direct them towards food.
Black Vultures Calls: They do not make many sounds and instead have a deep ‘coo’ grunt.
Fun Fact: Black Vultures are “bald” out of necessity because it needs to stick its head into the bodies of dead animals to get to their juiciest parts. Having feathers on their heads will make it hard for them to clean themselves up when bits and pieces of the carrion stick to the feathers.
17. Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawks spend winter in California and appear in 2% of checklists at this time. They are seen in areas around Sacramento, San Francisco, and Bakersfield.
Ferruginous Hawks are the largest hawks in North America. They have large heads and long wings. To make identification harder, they come in a light and a dark morph, which can vary quite considerably in their color pattern.
The more common light morph Ferruginous Hawks are white underneath on the wings, belly, and head. Their backs and the upper side of the wings are rusty brown, and they have darker legs.
Dark morphs are much rarer, and they have brown bellies and under the wings, except for white flight feathers on the wingtips and tail.
- Length: 22.1-27.2 in (56-69 cm)
- Weight: 34.5-73.2 oz (977-2074 g)
- Wingspan: 52.4-55.9 in (133-142 cm)
Ferruginous Hawks live in the open country of the West. They breed as far north as Southern Canada and down to Nevada and Utah. In winter, they often move short distances to southern US States and Mexico.
You can spot Ferruginous Hawks in grassland and shrublands in the low country. They do not cross the Rockies, even when migrating.
Small mammals make up the majority of their diet, and depending on what is available, they eat jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits in the West and ground squirrels and prairie dogs in the East.
Ospreys breed in the north of California but they spend winter in the south of the state. They occur in up to 5% of summer and winter checklists.
Ospreys are large, fierce-looking birds of prey that are also known as fish hawks or sea hawks for their specialized ability to catch large fish.
Their outer toe can turn backward and they have long powerful talons and spiny scales on the soles of their feet which aid them in grasping slippery, strong fish.
They are generally brown on the back and white underneath. Their heads are white, with some brown streaking on their crowns and foreheads. They have a distinctive broad brown line through their eyes that extends to the sides of their necks.
- Pandion haliaetus
- Length: 21 – 24 in (53 – 61 cm)
- Weight: 63.49 oz (1799 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 72 in (137 -183 cm)
You can find Ospreys practically anywhere in the world, except Antarctica, particularly with large bodies of water. They can tolerate any habitat as long as the food is accessible and abundant.
Ospreys feed almost exclusively on live fish. They will search for prey and when found, hover over water, then dive, feet and talons first, to capture fish.
Fun Facts: Ospreys have reversible outer toes, like owls, that allow them to easily and securely grasp fish. They also have closeable nostrils to keep water from entering their noses when they plunge into the water.
19. Great Egret
Great Egrets are very common in California and are spotted in the state all year. They are recorded in 13% of summer checklists and 19% of winter checklists.
Great Egrets are at their best during the breeding season when males have neon green facial skin and long, wispy feathers (aigrettes) extending from their backs to their tails, which they show off during courtship, like how a peacock flares out its tail.
They are large, all-white herons, which is why they’re often called Great White Herons. They are also called common egrets. These large birds are white, with dagger-like, long, bright yellow bills and long, black legs and feet.
Non-breeding males, females, and juveniles look alike.
- Ardea alba
- Length: 37 – 41 in (94 – 104cm)
- Weight: 59.96 oz (1699 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 55 in (137 – 140 cm)
Great Egrets have a vast range around the world. Those in the southern and coastal US states remain all year, but those more inland and in Canada migrate south.
You can find Great Egrets in freshwater and saltwater marshes and tidal flats, but also fish ponds.
Great Egret Calls:
Fun Fact: The Great Egret was almost hunted to extinction because of their long white feathers (aigrettes) that were mainly used to decorate ladies’ hats.
20. Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vultures can be found all year in California. They occur in 26% of summer checklists and 24% of winter checklists.
Turkey Vultures are aptly named. They do look like turkeys with their big, bald, red heads and upper necks and brownish-black bodies. However, they are larger than turkeys, and when they’re in flight, their broad wings are slightly raised and make a “V”.
Under their wings, they have gray coloring, making it seem like they’re two-toned. Their eyes are dark brown, and their bills are light-colored.
- Cathartes aura
- Length: 26 – 32 in (66 – 81 cm)
- Weight: 51.2 oz (1451 g)
- Wingspan: 68 – 72 in (173 – 183 cm)
You can find Turkey Vultures in a wide range of habitats, but the most common is open and semi-open areas next to woodlands.
Turkey Vultures’ main source of food is carrion or recently dead or decaying animals as long as it hasn’t decayed too much. They may feed on roadkill and washed-up fish and may even kill small or weak animals.
Turkey Vultures calls: They can only make a raspy hissing sound, but are usually silent.
Fun Facts: When Turkey Vultures are threatened or aggravated, they will vomit to provide a distraction and fly away. They may even pretend to be dead.
21. Rough-legged Hawk
Although not very common in California, Rough-legged Hawks are found in northern and eastern California during winter.
The feathered legs of the Rough-legged Hawks give them their name and help to keep them warm in the arctic. They are fairly large hawks, between the size of a crow and a goose.
This predominantly dark-brown species occurs in light and dark forms, with dark patches at the bend of the wing, end of their tails, and across the belly. They have broad wings that are relatively long and narrow compared to other hawks.
- Length: 18.5-20.5 in (47-52 cm)
- Weight: 25.2-49.4 oz (715-1400 g)
- Wingspan: 52.0-54.3 in (132-138 cm)
Rough-legged Hawks breed in Alaska and northern Canada before migrating to the US for winter. They are usually sighted hovering over marshes and open fields or perched on a pole.
Lemmings and voles provide most of the prey for Rough-legged Hawks. Voles, mice, ground squirrels, and other small mammals provide winter prey in states such as West Virginia.
22. Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gulls are spotted in California all year but they are most common during winter, from October to April. They appear in 5% of winter checklists.
Breeding adult Glaucous-winged Gulls have white heads and dark eyes. They have yellow bills with a red spot near the tip. They have silver-gray backs and wings with white wingtips. Their underparts are white and their legs are pink.
Non-breeding adult Glaucous-winged Gulls look similar to breeding adults except that their heads, napes, and necks have varying degrees of tan or light brown smudges or mottling. They still have the same yellow bill with a red spot, gray backs and wings (with white wingtips), white bellies, and pink legs.
Juveniles take four years before they reach adult plumage. First-winter birds are generally mottled pale brown and white all over with black bills and pink legs.
- Larus glaucescens
- Length: 19.7 – 23.2 in (50 – 59 cm)
- Weight: 31.8 – 42.3 oz (900-1200 g)
- Wingspan: 47.2 – 56.3 in (120 – 143 cm)
You can find Glaucous-winged Gulls living on small, treeless islands in the ocean but close to shorelines. They often forage in sheltered coves, rocky beaches, and rocky tidepools. They are accustomed to living in urban areas and stay close to fishing vessels to partake of spilled or discarded fish.
Glaucous-winged Gulls eat a variety of prey. They hunt in tidal areas where they catch crabs, sea stars, oysters, clams, or fish. They also target birds, eggs, and chicks and may scavenge for dead animals or scraps from garbage bags in urban areas.
Glaucous-winged Gull Calls:
Fun Fact: Glaucous-winged Gulls dropped shellfish onto rocks to break the shells before eating the soft insides.
Gyrfalcons are considered rare or accidental species in California that have a few sightings here during winter.
Gyrfalcons are the largest Falcons and are apex predators of the Arctic, where they snatch birds from the sky or dive at great speed to catch unsuspecting prey from the ground.
Their coloring varies greatly but generally, they have three morphs – white, silver/gray, and dark. Silver/gray is most common in North America
The silver/gray morphs are heavily banded gray and white on their upperparts but some are mostly gray without obvious banding. Their underparts are evenly spotted and white at the throat. Juveniles have solid dark heads and are browner overall.
- Falco rusticolus
- Length: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 41.6 oz (1179 g)
- Wingspan: 48 – 64 in (122 – 163 cm)
Gyrfalcons are found predominantly in the arctic and sub-arctic around the world. Those that breed in the high arctic of Canada migrate to the rest of Canada and into the United States for winter.
You can find Gyrfalcons in one of the harshest places on earth, the arctic tundra. They usually stay on cliffs near shorelines or rivers and with a vast open space where they can easily hunt prey.
Fun Fact: When the chicks aren’t able to finish off their meal, the female Gyrfalcon will keep or store their leftovers behind some vegetation to retrieve later.
24. Crested Caracara
Crested Caracaras are considered rare or accidental species in California but there have been sightings along the coast throughout the year.
Crested Caracaras are large, dark-bodied falcons with distinctive flat heads with black scruffy crowns, and massive orange bills with gray tips. These chunky birds feed on carrion and are aggressive to other birds such as vultures muscling in on their food.
- Caracara cheriway
- Length: 20 – 25 in (51 – 64 cm)
- Weight: 33.6 oz (952 g)
- Wingspan: 45 – 48 in (114 – 122 cm)
Crested Caracara do not migrate and are found in Central and South America, Mexico, and southern US states. They are also spotted more sporadically across the rest of the United States and into Canada.
You can find Crested Caracaras in open and semi-open areas, like prairies, deserts, savannahs, and agricultural lands. It’s easy to find them as they’re most often perched on high vantage points like fence posts, trees, and cacti as they look out for prey.
Crested Caracaras are opportunistic hunters. They will go where the prey is and will do anything to get what they can find.They eat carrion and will wade in the water to catch fish with their bills and turtle eggs with their feet.
They stay with vultures and wait for them to open a dead body since their own bills aren’t capable of it, but then try to chase the vultures away.
Crested Caracara Call:
Fun Fact: Crested Caracaras are unique in the sense that they’re the only falcon species that build their own nests instead of simply using cavities in trees or taking over abandoned nests of other birds.
25. Great Gray Owl
Great Gray Owls are not often spotted in California but they are residents of the state all year.
The Great Gray Owl deserves the title of “Great” because it has a large head and has the largest facial disk among birds of prey, and a tail that’s a foot long. Its actual body may be small, but its feathers are thick and fluffy, making it look bigger than it really is.
They have long wings and tails, earning them the title “World’s Largest Owl”
Great Gray Owls are generally silvery gray with some pale gray, brown, and white streaks. They have large round heads, small yellow eyes, a hooked bill, and a white collar just under the bill. They do not have any ear tufts.
- Strix nebulosa
- Length: 24 – 33 in (61 – 84 cm)
- Weight: 27.2 oz (771 g)
- Wingspan: 54 – 60 in (137 – 152 cm)
Great Gray Owls do not migrate but may move around in some years looking for food. They are resident in Canada, Alaska, northwestern US states, and down the Pacific Coast.
You can find Great Gray Owls in dense, wet, evergreen forests. They usually hunt in open meadows with scattered trees. Bogs are also hunting grounds, and you can find them in mixed pine and oak forests.
Great Gray Owls are night hunters. First, they listen and wait at their perches. When they’ve targeted their prey, they swoop down and capture them, if in the open. If their prey is under snow, they “snow-plunge” their way in to grab their prey.
Their large facial disks give them excellent hearing that allows them to identify prey even under two feet of snow.
Prey usually includes small mammals like voles, gophers, mice, chipmunks, and lemmings. Sometimes, they may also feast on ducks, jays, and quail.
Great Gray Owl calls: The hoo calls of the Great Gray Owl are made by males and females.
Fun Fact: Great Gray Owls although they look large they are actually quite small under all those feathers and so only catch small prey such as rodents.
26. Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpeckers do not migrate and are spotted in California all year, especially from April to July.
The Pileated Woodpecker is the biggest Woodpecker in North America, and with its’ flaming-red triangular crest, it is very striking.
It is one of the biggest woodpeckers being nearly the size of a crow. It is mostly black with a white stripe, and when flying, the white underside of the wings can be seen. Males have an additional red stripe on the cheek.
Length: 15.8-19.3 in (40-49 cm)
Weight: 8.8-12.3 oz (250-350 g)
Wingspan: 26.0-29.5 in (66-75 cm)
They live all year in Eastern US states, across Canada, and into Northwestern US states.
You can find Pileated Woodpeckers in mature forests or drowned forests with lots of dead trees, but they also visit backyard feeders, especially for suet. They make distinctive rectangular holes in trees, so look out for these.
Pileated Woodpeckers mostly eat carpenter ants from dead trees and fallen logs, but they also eat beetle larvae, termites, and other insects as well as fruit and nuts such as blackberries, sumac berries, dogwood, and elderberry.
Pileated Woodpecker call and drumming:
Pileated Woodpeckers’ drum is loud and booming due to their size. They also make a ‘wuk-wuk-wuk’ call and one that sounds like laughing.
Largest Birds In California By Weight
- Mute Swan – 416 ounces
- Trumpeter Swan – 401.6 ounces
- Wild Turkey – 381 ounces
- California Condor – 356.8 ounces
- American White Pelican – 246.4 ounces
- Canada Goose – 230.1 ounces
- Common Crane – 193.6 ounces
- Bald Eagle – 168 ounces
- Golden Eagle – 160 ounces
- Sandhill Crane – 132.3 ounces
- Brown Pelican – 131.2 ounces
- Great Blue Heron – 128 ounces
- American Flamingo – 99 ounces
- Wood Stork – 96 ounces
- Great Horned Owl – 88.2 ounces
- Black Vulture – 76.8 ounces
- Ferruginous Hawk – 73.2 ounces
- Osprey – 63.5 ounces
- Great Egret – 60 ounces
- Turkey Vulture – 51.2 ounces
- Rough-legged Hawk – 49.4 ounces
- Glaucous-winged Gull – 42.3 ounces
- Gyrfalcon – 41.6 ounces
- Crested Caracara – 33.6 ounces
- Great Gray Owl – 27.2 ounces
- Pileated Woodpecker – 12.3 ounces
Largest Birds In California By Length
- Trumpeter Swan – 72 inches
- American White Pelican – 63 inches
- Mute Swan – 62 inches
- California Condor – 52 inches
- Great Blue Heron – 52 inches
- Common Crane – 51 inches
- Brown Pelican – 50 inches
- Sandhill Crane – 48 inches
- Wild Turkey – 45 inches
- Canada Goose – 45 inches
- Wood Stork – 45 inches
- Bald Eagle – 43 inches
- Great Egret – 41 inches
- Golden Eagle – 38 inches
- Great Gray Owl – 33 inches
- Turkey Vulture – 32 inches
- Ferruginous Hawk – 27.2 inches
- Black Vulture – 27 inches
- American Flamingo – 25 inches
- Gyrfalcon – 25 inches
- Crested Caracara – 25 inches
- Great Horned Owl – 24.8 inches
- Osprey – 24 inches
- Glaucous-winged Gull – 23.2 inches
- Rough-legged Hawk – 20.5 inches
- Pileated Woodpecker – 19.3 inches
Largest Birds In California By Wingspan
- American White Pelican – 110 inches
- California Condor – 108 inches
- Trumpeter Swan – 102 inches
- Mute Swan – 96 inches
- Bald Eagle – 96 inches
- Golden Eagle – 96 inches
- Common Crane – 91 inches
- Sandhill Crane – 90 inches
- Brown Pelican – 84 inches
- Great Blue Heron – 82 inches
- Canada Goose – 75 inches
- Turkey Vulture – 72 inches
- Osprey – 72 inches
- Wood Stork – 65 inches
- Gyrfalcon – 64 inches
- Great Gray Owl – 60 inches
- Black Vulture – 60 inches
- Great Horned Owl – 57.1 inches
- Wild Turkey – 56.7 inches
- Glaucous-winged Gull – 56.3 inches
- Ferruginous Hawk – 55.9 inches
- Great Egret – 55 inches
- Rough-legged Hawk – 54.3 inches
- American Flamingo – 48 inches
- Crested Caracara – 48 inches
- Pileated Woodpecker – 29.5 inches