California is ideal for finding those rare birding moments. Even if you’re not readily searching, birds are bound to cross your path; all you have to do is listen and look. From loners, to bird flocks flying across the sky, one is always met by a new bird companion. In San Francisco, the Northwestern Blackbirds perch on wires; along Monterey Bay, Brown Pelicans hang out by the pier, and falcons soar high in Yosemite National Park. There are 600 known bird species living in California. Here’s a list of birds commonly found in California, and the particular places where they were last seen.
On one morning, a flock of them greeted tourists on their way to Bridalveil Fall. This crazy-looking bird can be seen flying around Yosemite Valley singing “shaack, shaack.” Their ruby blue and black color stands out from the mostly green coniferous forests of Yosemite National Park. Stellar’s Jay are abundant from southern Alaska to Pacific Coast to the Rocky mountains, through Mexico and into Central America. They prefer to eat seeds, acorns, fruits, frogs, snakes, insects, and will even resort to stealing from other birds. They are one of the few birds to use mud in their nest construction.
This species was spotted on the trail to Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park. Hidden by some skinny pine trees, two magpies danced around in flight above a fallen tree truck. In the eerie silence all you can here is their “wock, wock wock-a-wock.” Mostly black with a stout bill, white bellied, and a long tail of iridescent blue and green-black, the magpie is a beautiful bird to watch in flight. It eats insects, larvae, carrion, and lives in Alaska to western and central Canada, and northern California. During winter it travels far east to Ontario and Minnesota. It prefers woodlands, savannas, and streams.
These hummingbirds with their distinct “chee-chee-chee” song can be found along the west coast, often varying from desert to mountain, including bushy woodlands and gardens. If you’re lucky you can see them near Venice Beach roaming around the palm trees when the early morning strikes. Males are usually of the rose-red head and throat with the iridescent bronze-green body. Some interesting facts: Anna’s Hummingbirds consume more insects than any other hummingbird, and their hearts goes fast at 1,260 beats per minute, while a human heart only beats from 60 to 100. Luckily, breeding range has expanded due to the planting of ornamental plants. They usually feed on nectar, insects, spiders, and sap.
This medium falcon can be seen soaring in the sky or perched on a cliff, singing “kree, kree, kree.” It has a pale brown back in pattern form with brown spots, and bars on its white chest. They eat small birds, mammals, and large insects. They are swift fliers with rapid wing beats. Sometimes they alternate several rapid wing beats with a glide. The Prairie Falcon prefers barren mountains, dry plains and prairies. It feeds on lizards, Mourning Doves, squirrels, pikas, and even pretty rosy-finches. They usually grab their prey by swooping at a low angle to surprise them on the ground.
This medium fly-catcher eats mostly insects, and sometimes small fish. It has shallow wing beats, and goes from perch to perch to catch insects in the air. The Black-Phoebe has a distinct sound of “seek, seek,” and lives in coastal Oregon and throughout California. Its body is mostly black except for its white chubby belly. It prefers shady habitats, near lakes, streams, and even above a window. They are full-on insectivores, feasting on bees, wasps, beetles, grasshoppers, dragonflies, termites, and spiders. Males have a funny tendency: they show females the potential nest sites, but the female has the final say when choosing, and even does her own nest construction. The Black-Phoebe is known to be territorial and solitary.
These birds have the keen ability to find fresh carcasses, so if you think you’re seeing an eagle— no, its just a Turkey Vulture waiting for you to fully tire out from hiking. How do you know its a Turkey Vultures? Generally, they soar with their wings raised in a V while making circles. Their sense of smell makes them successful scavengers, mostly eating mammals but also snacking on reptiles, other birds, amphibians, and fish. Though they prefer fresh dead meat, they do have to wait for their meal to soften to better puncture the skin—and surprisingly they never attack living prey. They live along roadsides, suburbs, farm fields, countryside, and landfills. They are bigger than most raptors, with the exception of eagles and condors. From a distance they appear black, but upon close inspection, they are dark brown, and have white coloring under their wings. Resting on its body is a featherless red head and a pale bill.
For more on birds, check out the Pocket Ranger® Fish and Wildlife Apps available in New York, Alabama, Wisconsin, Georgia, Nebraska, and New Jersey. The apps provide bird descriptions, distribution areas, and habitat information, along with features like GPS mapping, a built-in compass, and distance indicator to help you plan your next birding adventure.