Living in Southern California and saw some birds but are not sure which ones they were?
California is known for its wildlife, and according to the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC), there are over 670 species of birds there.
Examples of birds of Southern California include the house finch, California quail, western bluebird, bald eagle, brown pelican, barn owl, green heron, and many others.
Songbirds like the American goldfinch and the western kingbird, raptors like the golden eagle, osprey, and barn owl, hummingbirds like Anna’s hummingbird, quails like the Californian quail, and other birds are very common in southern parts of California.
Some of these birds, like the barn owl and house finch, can be seen year-round in the state, while others, like the western bluebird, will only spend winters there.
Birds In Southern California
Scientific name: Sialia mexicana
Lifespan: 1-2 years
Wingspan: 10-13 in
Western bluebirds are small North American thrushes that usually perch upright. In Southern California, you will find them during winter, usually from October to February. Some populations might even stay there year-round.
Look for birds that have deep blue-colored wings, orange breasts and sides, gray bellies, and thin straight bills. Western bluebirds are common visitors of oak woodlands, mountain conifers, valley farms, and orchards.
Male western bluebirds will often make loud calls that sound like “cheer,” “chur-chur,” and “chup,” to keep competitors away and to find females in the condensed forest.
Pay close attention to birds that drop suddenly to the ground after insects. Western bluebirds are omnivores that will also feed on berries.
They look similar to the other two species of bluebirds; the only difference is the throat color. Western bluebirds have blue (male) or gray (female) throats, eastern bluebirds have orange throats, while mountain bluebirds have no orange color on themselves.
Western bluebirds mate for life. However, one 2003 study discovered that around 45% of western bluebird females had some chicks in the nest that are not sired by their social mates.
Scientific name: Spinus tristis
Lifespan: 3-6 years
Wingspan: 7.5-8.7 in
The American goldfinch is the state bird of New Jersey, Iowa, and Washington.
This small migratory bird with a small head, long wings, and a short, notched tail can be found in Southern California during winter.
Look for American goldfinches around riparian zones, fields, open woodlands, backyards, and parks during winter. You might also spot some around bird feeders as goldfinches love to visit them.
Listen for their winter calls that sound like “per chi cor ree.”
American goldfinches arrive in the state in the fall (around October) and stay there until May. After that, they move north to breed. Some populations can be even seen throughout the year in the state.
They have the nickname “wild canary” because of their bright yellow plumage in the spring and summer.
During the winter months, males get an olive color while the females become dull yellow-brown.
American goldfinches molt twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer.
Male and female American goldfinches have colorful carotenoid-based orange bills during the breeding season. The bill serves as an indicator of the overall health of the bird. The more saturated with orange a bill is, the higher the testosterone levels the bird has.
Read More: List of backyard birds of Western Washington
Scientific name: Haemorhous mexicanus
Lifespan: up to 11 years
Wingspan: 8-10 in
House finch is a widespread backyard bird found year-round in most habitats of Southern California. It has a conical bill, short wings, and a shallowly notched tail.
Males have a brown plumage, streaked underparts, reddish breasts, heads, eyebrows, and rumps while females are brown above and streaked below.
The red color of the male house finches comes from the berries and fruits in their diet – females prefer to mate with males that have the reddest faces.
House finches are gregarious and loud birds; look for them around city parks, urban centers, residential backyards, farms, and forest edges.
Depending on the location, house finches have different “accents” while singing. Californian house finches have two-second songs with 4-26 syllables; the songs of the ones from Wisconsin and Colorado can last longer and contain more syllables.
They are one of the most common and widespread species of birds in South California and North America. Some estimates claim that there are anywhere from 267 million to 1.7 billion individuals across the continent.
House finches are omnivores and feed on seeds, buds, flower parts, berries, small fruits, and occasionally some small insects.
Scientific name: Tyrannus verticalis
Lifespan: up to 6 years
Wingspan: 15.5 in
These Southern California birds can be seen in the state from spring until fall. You will recognize western kingbirds by their gray heads and chests, olive backs, yellow bellies, and dark tails.
Western Kingbirds are common in the open country.
In Southern California, you can often see western kingbirds sitting perched on roadside fences and wires, flying out to snap up insects.
They are omnivores and occasionally might feed on berries and fruits.
Western Kingbirds are extremely territorial and aggressive. They will ferociously defend their territories, charging fearlessly at much larger birds such as hawks, attacking even humans, livestock, and pets if they think their young are in danger.
Western kingbirds nest in a tree or shrub, occasionally on utility poles, empty sheds, or other man-made structures.
Scientific name: Toxostoma redivivum
Lifespan: up to 9 years
Wingspan: 12 in
These large and long-tailed songbirds are common in Southern California year-round. California thrashers can be often seen around chaparral, oak woodland, and riparian habitats.
They are easy to recognize by their long and decurved beaks, cocked tails, and gray-brown plumage. California thrashers also have grayish buff supercilium over their dark eyes that resemble eyebrows.
You will often find them foraging on the ground, digging and sweeping through leaves with their bills. During spring, California thrashers feed on insects and other small invertebrates; they might also eat some small fruits throughout the rest of the year.
They breed in the state from January/February until July and both parents will build the nest, incubate their clutch of three to four eggs, and feed the young.
Scientific name: Pipilo maculatus
Lifespan: up to 12 years
Wingspan: 11 in
The spotted towhee is a large, striking, and long-tailed sparrow that can be seen in southern parts of California throughout the year. In that area, the spotted towhee is common in chaparral and oak woodlands.
You will identify this bird by its plumage which is black above with white spots on its wings and back. Spotted towhee also has bright rufous sides, white belly, bright red eyes, and dull pink legs.
Often nesting on the ground or low in bushes, the spotted towhee can be often seen hopping along the ground, scraping away leaf litter, and looking for insects, beetles, spiders, acorns, seeds oats, and berries.
It often visits bird feeders so you might be able to attract it if you have one.
Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
Lifespan: 2 years in the wild
Wingspan: 12-16 in
The red-winged blackbirds are common around marshes and agricultural fields in Southern California throughout the year.
Their scientific name “agelaios” means “gregarious,” while the “phoeniceus” means “crimson” or “red.”
Red-winged blackbirds are one of South California’s but also North America’s most abundant birds and have between 20 and 24 subspecies.
You will recognize males by their overall black color with red epaulets that are edged in yellow. Females are smaller, streaky brown above, and dark and white under.
Look for the red-shoulder displays in males along with their scratchy “oak-a-lee” calls. Females have a scolding chatter that sounds like “chit chit cheer teer teer teerr.”
Red-winged blackbirds are omnivores and feed on insects, seeds, and grain. They have a clutch of three to four pale blue-green eggs with dark streaks.
They are gregarious, very territorial, and polygynous birds, where one male can have up to 10 different females making nests in his territory. Females, on the other hand, will frequently mate with other males, and often lay clutches of mixed paternity.
Scientific name: Mimus polyglottos
Lifespan: up to 8 years
Wingspan: 12-15 in
Northern mockingbirds are medium-sized songbirds that are commonly found in Southern California year-round. They are widespread and can be seen in habitats ranging from open country to suburbs.
You will easily identify northern mockingbirds by their gray color with whitish underparts and a long tail.
In case you see one while it’s flying, notice the large white patches on the black wings and tail. Those wing bars have a dual purpose: to show off during the mating season and to flash them when defending territory against some snakes and hawks.
The northern mockingbird is a state bird of Texas.
The Latin name of this bird translates to “many-tongued mimic,” and for a reason – a northern mockingbird can imitate chirps of up to 35 species and learn over 200 different songs in its lifetime.
They can also imitate sounds of rusty hinges, whistling, cackling hens, and dogs barks so well that you couldn’t tell a difference even with an electronic analysis.
It is the only species out of 16 with the name “mockingbird” that is native to the United States.
The northern mockingbird is a very territorial bird and very good at breeding – scientists once recorded a female that managed to lay 27 eggs in a single season!
Northern mockingbirds are omnivores that feed on fruit, seeds, berries, and small insects.
If you want to read more about songbirds found in Florida click here.
Scientific name: Aphelocoma californica
Lifespan: 9 years
Wingspan: 15 in
California scrub-jays are attractive jays found in parks, neighborhoods, and riverside woods near the Pacific Coast. In Southern California, these birds can be seen all year.
Look for medium-sized birds that have deep azure wings and white and soft gray-brown underparts.
California scrub-jays are also common around other animals and can be often seen sitting on the backs of mule deer eating ticks and other parasites.
These stunning blue and white birds will often steal acorns from acorn woodpeckers or other jays, but when they go to hide their own acorn, California scrub-jays will always check first that no other birds are watching.
They are omnivores feeding on insects, fruit, nuts, seeds, and some small animals such as lizards and nesting birds.
California scrub-jays are very aggressive and dangerous so smaller birds tend to avoid them.
Scientific name: Callipepla californica
Lifespan: 1 year
Wingspan: 12-14 in
The California quail, or the California valley quail, is the state bird of California.
In southern parts of the state, you will find this small bird around chaparral habitats and woodlands throughout the year. Listen for its “chicago” calls, contact “pips” and warning “pips“.
The California quail is easy to notice by its crest (plume) that curves forward; males have it black, while the female ones are brown. It has a brown or black plumage color with white streaks with a bluish-gray to light yellow color on its belly.
This ground-dwelling bird has wings but prefers to run – California quail can reach impressive speeds of 12 mph.
They are very social birds, and to keep others safe from predators, one bird will act as a protector while others eat.
California quails are omnivores that mostly feed on seeds and leaves, some acorns, berries, flowers, bulbs, and insects.
Scientific name: Megaceryle alcyon
Lifespan: 6-14 years
Wingspan: 19-23 in
These large and conspicuous water birds are native to North America. Belted kingfishers are the only kingfishers in South California and can be seen there during winter.
They are easy to recognize by their large heads, shaggy crests on top and back of their heads, and thick straight bills. Belted kingfishers also have blue-gray upper plumage and white underparts.
Look for them around wetlands, streams, lakes, bays, and coasts. You will often hear them before you see them – listen for their distinct and loud rattling or chattering call.
Belted kingfishers have two fused toes which can also help distinguish these blue-winged birds from others.
These territorial and aggressive birds are carnivores that dive to catch fish and crayfish with their heavy beaks. They will also eat mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, and lizards.
Belted kingfishers can’t digest bones and will regurgitate the undigested pieces as pellets, similar to owls.
They are also one of the most common Central Florida birds.
Scientific name: Picoides albolarvatus
Lifespan: up to 4 years
This non-migratory woodpecker can be found in pine forests of the mountains of the western states and British Columbia.
The white-headed woodpecker can be occasionally seen throughout the year in Southern California. In San Diego County, the southern tip of its range, the white-headed woodpecker can be seen breeding only in the coniferous forest near the mountain tops.
It has black plumage with mostly white head and white stripes on the outer flight feathers (primary feathers). The white-headed woodpecker is the only North American woodpecker with a black body and a white head.
Compared to other woodpeckers, white-headed woodpeckers are a lot quieter because they pry rather than hammer tree bark. They also have large bills; possibly as an adaptation to eat large spiny cones more easily.
White-headed woodpeckers are monogamous, they form pairs where both parents take care of the eggs, with the male doing all the nighttime work. They mostly feed on insects and pine seeds.
Scientific name: Archilochus alexandri
Lifespan: up to 10 years
Wingspan: 1.5-1.9 in
This small migratory hummingbird has metallic green upperparts, white underparts, a long slender beak, and a dark forked tail. Males have black faces and chins and glossy purple throat bands.
Black-chinned hummingbirds are common in the coastal parts of Southern California, usually from spring to fall. You will have the best chance of seeing them between March and October.
Look for black-chinned hummingbirds in mountains, woodlands, orchards, and meadows.
When the cold weather comes, black-chinned hummingbirds will migrate south, to the west coasts of Mexico. During that period, these beautiful birds may consume almost three times their body weight in nectar per day.
Black-chinned hummingbirds are omnivores that feed on insects and nectar.
Outside the breeding season, they are mostly solitary birds, but as part of their courting rituals, males will make broad U-shaped dives 60-100 feet past a perched female.
Scientific name: Calypte anna
Lifespan: 8.5 years
Wingspan: 4.7 in
These small birds of Southern California are named after Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli.
Anna’s hummingbirds are medium-sized and stocky hummingbirds with straight, shortish beaks, and fairly broad and forked tails.
You will identify them by their iridescent bronze-green backs, pale grey chests and bellies, and green flanks. Males have iridescent reddish-pink heads and gorgets that extend to the sides of the neck and throats. Females are grayish and have green heads with a small amount of red on their throats.
Using their long tongues, Anna’s hummingbirds feed on flower nectar. They also eat some small insects they catch mid-flight.
In the early 20th century, Anna’s hummingbirds only bred in northern Baja California and southern California. They have expanded their breeding range since.
Scientists estimate that Anna’s hummingbirds have a population of around 1.5 million individuals.
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Lifespan: 4 years
Wingspan: 31-37 in
The most widely distributed species of owl in the world and one of the most widespread of all species of birds, the barn owl can be also seen year-round in Southern California.
This nocturnal bird of prey is common around open fields, riparian areas, and farms, often perching on branches, fence posts, or other lookouts where it can scan its surroundings.
You will recognize the barn owl by its ghostly appearance, heart-shaped head, cinnamon and gray upperparts, and white underparts. This bird also has dark eyes, white talons, and a hooked upper beak to tear meat.
Unlike some other species of owl, the barn owl does not hoot and makes a piercing eerie “shree” scream.
Barn owl hunts animals on the ground which it locates by sound, thanks to its acute hearing and excellent eyesight. It will swallow its entire prey and several times a day it might spit out pellets of fur and undigested material.
These birds are monogamous and stay together for life.
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Lifespan: 15-25 years
Wingspan: 35.8-60.2 in
The largest owl in the state and its southern parts, the great horned owl is a permanent resident of California. It is almost two feet long, has a wingspan of almost 5 feet, and can weigh up to 3.5 pounds.
The great horned owl is widespread; it can be seen in mountains, grasslands, conifer forests, deserts, chaparrals, and many other habitats.
It also has one of the most diverse diets of all North American raptors – the great horned owl will prey on rabbits, hares, rats, mice, voles, other small mammals, larger mid-sized mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Just like the barn owl, it relies on its acute hearing and excellent eyesight to locate the prey. To catch the unsuspecting animal, this owl will fly in near silence.
In case you see a great horned owl in person, you will notice long, earlike tufts, intimidating yellow eyes, and a deep hooting call.
It has a gray-brown plumage with a mottled pattern and a white patch at the throat.
Great horned owls are monogamous birds and may stay together for over five years, sometimes even for a lifetime.
They are one of the earliest nesting birds in North America and will often lay eggs weeks or even months before other raptors.
Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Lifespan: 20-30 years
Wingspan: 70.8-90.5 in
Bald eagles are one of the largest birds of prey found in Southern California.
The best time to see these magnificent birds in the state is winter. During that period, according to some statewide surveys, there are over 1,000 bald eagles present in the state.
Around December, bald eagles will migrate into Southern California from breeding areas in the north. They are common around lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and some rangelands and coastal wetlands until March.
Bald eagles build the largest nests of any North American bird that can be up to 13 ft deep and 8.2 ft wide.
You will recognize them by their commanding presence, white heads and tails, brown color, and bright yellow bills.
These magnificent raptors are hard to miss as they soar through the air with their 7.5-foot-wide wingspan.
They are carnivores and opportunistic feeders that mostly consume fish, which they snatch from the water with their sharp talons.
Scientific name: Pandion haliaetus
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Wingspan: 50–71 in
Ospreys are very large raptors that are common during winter in southern parts of California. They can reach 26 inches in length and 71 inches across the wings.
Ospreys are piscivorous and fish makes up 99% of their diet. You will mostly find them near water, just as one might expect from a fish-eating bird.
Pay close attention to diurnal birds with brown upperparts and predominantly greyish heads and underparts.
What is unusual for ospreys is that they have a reversible outer toe that allows them to grasp with two toes in front and two behind. Such adaptation prevents fish from slipping away.
They are also known as “sea hawks” or “fish hawks” and will hover above the water, locate their prey and then swoop down for the capture with their talons extended.
During their 20-year-long lifetime, these migratory birds can travel over 160,000 miles.
Scientific name: Cathartes aura
Lifespan: 16 years in
Wingspan: 63–72 in
Turkey vultures are the largest vultures in Southern California. They are widespread throughout the state – in southern parts they can be seen year-round.
With a wingspan of around 6 feet, turkey vultures are a familiar sight in the Californian sky.
You will recognize them by their brown color, bare red heads, and white legs. When turkey vultures fly, their silvery flight feathers are contrasted with dark wing linings.
They are also known as the turkey buzzard (or just buzzard) and got their original name due to their resemblance to a wild turkey.
Turkey vultures are bigger than other raptors, except eagles and condors.
Some wildlife experts estimate a population of over 18 million turkey vultures in total.
If you decide to go after turkey vultures, look for them in the open areas including mixed farmland, forest, and rangeland.
They are gregarious birds that roost in large community groups with several hundred individuals.
You might also spot them sitting in trees on the sides of roads waiting for their next meal.
Turkey vultures might be big and look scary, but these Southern California birds do a great service across the US by removing dead animals and preventing the transmission of any diseases those dead animals could have carried.
They can eat and digest carcasses tainted with anthrax, tuberculosis, and rabies, without getting sick because of their extremely strong stomach acids.
Scientific name: Butorides virescens
Lifespan: up to 8 years
Wingspan: 25-26 in
The green heron is a small dark heron that can be seen throughout the year in Southern California. Common around lakes, rivers, ponds, and marshes, this small dark heron has a long beak, a short neck, and orange eyes.
Up close, adults have glossy greenish-black caps, dark green upperparts, gray underparts, white throats, and short yellow legs.
You will also recognize them by their loud and sudden “kyow” call.
Green herons are rare bird species that use tools. They will often leave bread crusts, insects, and feathers on the surface of the water to attract small fish. Then they will patiently wait for the fish to come and snatch it with their dagger-like bills.
Green herons also feed on crayfish, other crustaceans, insects, grasshoppers, frogs, rodents, and even snakes.
The American Birding Association selected the green heron as the official Bird of the Year 2015.
Scientific name: Hydroprogne caspia
Lifespan: 12 years
Wingspan: 50–57 in
The Caspian tern is the largest tern in California and the world. In the state, this big bird can be occasionally found in southeastern parts throughout the year.
Caspian tern is easily recognizable by its large head, coral red beak, shallowly forked tail, and deep, raspy call. It also has white color overall with pale gray upperwings.
This bird got its name from the early associations with the Caspian Sea where Caspian terns are fairly common even today.
Caspian terns are very aggressive when defending their breeding colony. They will pursue, attack, and chase away potential predatory birds, and even bite people on their heads if they invade their space.
Caspian terns will often hover high over the water, scanning for fish. When they spot one, they will fly down rapidly and dive to catch it.
They also occasionally feed on large insects, the young and eggs of other birds, and some rodents.
Read More: List of birds in Western PA
Scientific name: Bucephala albeola
Lifespan: 2.5 years
Wingspan: 22 in
This small sea duck has a white body, black back, glossy black-green head, and a large white patch at the back of the head. Bufflehead is common in the southern parts of the state during winter, somewhere from November to March.
Some of these amazing white birds might even end up in Hawaii as part of their migration.
You will find them spending half the time underwater while foraging. Look for birds with a gray bill and pink legs and feet.
Buffleheads are monogamous birds, staying with the same partner for many years. They are omnivorous and feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, and some plants.
Scientific name: Ardea alba
Lifespan: 22 years
Wingspan: 52-67 in
The great egret was almost decimated in southern California at the beginning of the 20th century. It was hunted for its beautiful plumes called “aigrettes” that were used as a hat decoration.
This impressively large bird recovered and today is a nonbreeding visitor of southern parts of the state, mainly in fall and winter.
You will find great egret around marshes and irrigated fields, and recognize it by the all-white plumage, long yellowish-orange beak, and long black legs. Their numbers peak from November to February – this is the best time to go looking for great egrets.
These members of the heron family are the second largest in North America with only the great blue heron being larger.
Great egrets resemble pelicans because of their white plumage; great egrets can also tuck their necks right into their backs during flight.
They are seasonally monogamous (stay with the same partner for one breeding season) and breed in colonies in trees close to large lakes.
A male great egret will display its mating season plumage and colors and point its beak upward to attract a female.
Great egrets will slowly stalk their prey or stay motionless, waiting for the right moment to strike and impale prey with their long, sharp bills.
They forage in shallow water or drier habitats and mostly feed on fish, frogs, small mammals, small reptiles, crustaceans, and insects.
Scientific name: Pelecanus occidentalis
Lifespan: 20-40 years
Wingspan: 80-90 in
The Brown pelican is one of the most iconic sights of Southern California. This large and distinctive bird can be seen year-round in these parts of the state. Brown pelican is common in coastal areas, around beaches, estuaries, and lagoons.
They are the second-largest species of pelicans found in California, right after the American white pelican.
Brown pelicans have oversized beaks (9 inches long), sinuous necks, and big, dark bodies. You will easily identify brown pelicans by their size, chestnut-and-white necks, white-colored heads with pale yellow crowns, brown-streaked backs, rumps, and tails, and black legs and feet.
These elegant birds have an extendable sac of skin that hangs below their long, lower beak.
This pouch can hold up to 3 gallons of water, three times more than their belly. They use their pouches to catch fish and also to cold down, by evaporating water off the skin surface.
Brown pelicans will fly 70 feet over the ocean, with necks folded backward and their heads resting on their backs, looking for fish in the water. When they spot their prey, pelicans will dive down and collect as much fish with their pouches as possible, along with lots of water. They will squeeze the water out and just swallow the trapped fish.
Pelicans need to eat up to four pounds of fish (and perhaps some shrimp) per day to survive.
They will even dive as deep as 30 feet to catch prey.
Brown pelicans are monogamous for a single season, and after mating, the pair will build their nest either on the ground or in trees. Males will bring the building material and the female will build the nest. Usually, a female will lay from one to four eggs per season.
American White Pelican
Scientific name: Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Lifespan: 16-30 years
Wingspan: 120 in
The American white pelican is a large aquatic bird that lives in inland shallow freshwater lakes, wet prairies, and marshes in the summer, and on coastal lagoons in the winter.
In Southern California, the American white pelican can be seen during winter, from October to March.
It has white plumage and black flight feathers visible only when the wings are spread.
American pelican also has a vivid yellow-orange bill and legs.
White pelicans have the largest beak of any other North American waterbird, measuring over 15 inches in males and over 14 inches in females.
With a wingspan of up to 120 in, American white pelicans are the largest birds in California.
Their diet mostly consists of fish, but also some crayfish and salamanders.
A group of pelicans is called a “brief” and a “squadron”.
Read More: Birds that live in Northern California
This concludes our list of birds in Southern California.
Types of South California birds include several songbirds, raptors, quails, woodpeckers, owls, hummingbirds, and many others.
Next time you see any of these birds in person, you should be able to recognize them with ease!