15 Common Birds in Northern California: Everything You Need to Know

Common Birds in Northern California

Welcome to the world of Northern California’s common birds! 

Northern California is undoubtedly a bird lover’s paradise. 

With its diverse habitats ranging from mountains to forests, wetlands to grasslands, and coastlines to deserts, it’s no wonder that the region boasts an impressive variety of bird species. 

From the colorful Anna’s Hummingbird to the beautiful California Quail and majestic Western Kingbird, there’s something for everyone among the 15 common birds of Northern California. 

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

15 Common Birds in Northern California to Explore!

Whether you are a seasoned birder or a beginner, knowing the common birds of Northern California is essential for appreciating and understanding the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Some of the most commonly sighted birds of Northern California include the following:

1. Anna’s Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird

Let’s start with Anna’s Hummingbird. They are one of the most common sights found in Northern California. All credit goes to their dazzling green and pink plumage and the unique buzzing sound they make. 

Anna’s Hummingbirds are found in various habitats, from parks and gardens to forests and coastal scrublands. 

And like all hummingbirds, these bird species are nectarivorous, feeding on nectar from flowers and feeders. Apart from these, they are also known to feed on small insects and spiders. 

Another noteworthy feature of these tiny birds is their super fast speed and agile flight. Anna’s Hummingbirds can fly at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and can hover in place for up to a minute.

Due to this, they have a high metabolism and require a lot of energy to sustain their rapid wing beats. They are a year-round resident in the region. And typically build their nests in trees or shrubs, using spider silk and other materials to create a secure and cozy home for their young ones.

Scientific Name: Calypte Anna
Lifespan: 8.5 years
Wingspan: 4.7 in

2. White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

The second one on our list is the White-breasted Nuthatch. It is a small omnivorous bird that is easily recognizable, thanks to its blue-gray back and white underbelly. 

Also known for their acrobatic skills, they are often seen hopping up and down tree trunks and branches, using their strong feet and sharp claws to cling to the bark. During the breeding season, the males sing rapidly to draw the female species’ attention. 

One of the noteworthy traits of these birds is their unique habit of caching food in tree bark, which they can retrieve later when the food is scarce. 

White-breasted Nuthatches are year-round residents of northern California and can be spotted in parks, forests, and backyards throughout the region.

Scientific name: Sitta Carolinensis
Lifespan: 2 years
Wingspan: 11 in

3. Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Known for their aerial acrobatics, swooping and diving through the air as they catch insects on the wing – Tree Swallows are a common sight in the region. 

They are a migratory species that fly in large flocks and typically arrive in northern California in the spring and summer to breed and raise their young. 

Tree Swallows are primarily omnivores, feeding on insects such as flies, beetles, and mosquitoes. However, they are also found to eat fruits and seeds occasionally. 

These bird species usually nest in cavities, such as abandoned woodpecker holes or nest boxes. They are often seen perched on power lines or tree branches, singing and chattering with one another. 

Overall, Tree Swallows are a delightful and fascinating bird to observe, with their beautiful plumage and graceful and acrobatic flight.

Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor
Lifespan: 3 years
Wingspan: 12-14 in

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4. Spotted Towhee

The Spotted Towhee is a distinctive bird easily recognized from afar. Seems unbelievable? Well, it is indeed a fact. 

They come with a beautiful combination of black and white spotted wings and back, rufous sides, and white bellies – making them a true beauty that is hard to forget once spotted.

Spotted Towhees are primarily seed-eaters but also eat insects, beetles, spiders, and other small invertebrates. They have a unique habit of using their feet to scratch the ground for food. 

Moving to the call,  they make sounds like a scratchy “chewink,” that can be heard throughout their range.

Lastly, Spotted Towhees are a year-round resident in northern California, and they can often be found in forests, woodlands, and backyards throughout the region.

Scientific name: Pipilo Maculatus
Lifespan: up to 12 years
Wingspan: 11 in

5. House Wren

House Wren

House Wren is a small bird easily recognizable by its brown plumage and upward-tilted tail throughout Northern California. 

They often flit around in gardens, parks, and backyards, searching for insects to eat. House Wrens are known for their energetic and bubbly songs, which are a series of rapid trills and chirps. 

Although insectivores, they are known to eat spiders and various small fruits. They are a year-round resident in Northern California and can be frequently seen darting in and out of birdhouses or nesting boxes.

One of the interesting things about these house wren is they might never visit your bird feeder; instead, you may see them hunting down your backyard insects. 

Another significant thing about these birds is that they are cavity nesters and will readily use any nest box, holes in trees, or other small spaces for their nests. 

Scientific Name: Troglodytes Aedon
Lifespan: Up to 7 years
Wingspan: 6 in

6. Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks

Evening Grosbeaks are large, striking birds with a bright-yellow, black, and white plumage – found in coniferous forests throughout northern California. While they may not be as common as some other birds on this list, they are still a beautiful sight to behold. 

And by these, they only winter in the rest of the region. They are irregular migrators and don’t have a specific pattern to follow instead, their entire migration is affected based on food availability. 

These birds are primarily seed-eaters, with a preference for the seeds of conifers such as pine and fir trees. They also feed on insects during the breeding season. One of the interesting facts about these species is that they are super fast eaters having the ability to devour almost 100 sunflower seeds within just five minutes. 

Most visitors even see these Grosbeaks eat raw salt and find gravel off the roads during winter. Such a sight to witness!

Scientific Name: Coccothraustes Vespertinus
Lifespan: 15-16 years
Wingspan: 12-14 in

7. Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

The Yellow Warbler is a small, vibrant bird with bright yellow plumage and a distinctive, sweet song. They are popularly known as small songbirds with medium-long bright yellow tails and rounded heads. Their melodious song can be frequently heard near the streamside willows and edges of the woodland from spring to fall.

They are found in various habitats, including gardens, parks, and forests throughout northern California. These birds are diurnal and omnivores, feeding on insects such as caterpillars, beetles, midges, and flies.  However, they eat small fruits and berries, especially in winter.

One of the interesting facts about this warbler is that the male ones can produce more than 3,000 whistling songs a day just to attract the female warbler. While defending the territories, they make loud “hissing” noises.  

They are extremely active and acrobatic birds, often seen flitting through branches and foliage for food. They build intricate, cup-shaped nests using grasses, twigs, and spiderwebs. And lay a clutch of 3-6 eggs.

Yellow Warblers are a true delight to watch and listen to, adding a wonderful touch of sunshine to any birdwatching excursion.

Scientific Name: Setophaga petechia
Lifespan: up to 10 years 
Wingspan: 6.3-8.7 in 

8. Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird is a striking bird with black feathers and a vibrant red patch on its shoulder –  mostly found on agricultural fields and the marshes. There are more than twenty subspecies of these birds. 

Red-winged Blackbirds are highly social birds seen in flocks of up to several hundred individuals. They are primarily omnivores, feeding on insects, grains, and seeds, and are mostly known for their loud and distinctive calls. 

One of the key points of these bird species is they are extremely territorial and polygynous – with the males having up to ten different females creating nests in their boundary. 

Moving on to the female, they are often found mating with other males – laying clutches of mixed paternity.

Scientific Name: Agelaius Phoeniceus
Lifespan: 2 years in the wild
Wingspan: 12-16 in

9. Common Goldeneye

The Common Goldeneye is a medium-sized duck that can be quite easily tracked down from a long distance due to its visibly large head and moderately small and narrow beak. 

Though they are mostly found in black and white plumage, they have got their name goldeneye for their beautiful golden yellow eyes. 

They are found in freshwater habitats throughout northern California, such as lakes, rivers, and ponds. These ducks are diving birds and feed on a variety of aquatic invertebrates and small fish. 

They are also known for their unique courtship displays, which involve the male puffing out his head feathers and bobbing his head up and down. 

These goldeneye bird species usually migrate in the late fall and early spring seasons in small, loose flocks. Although they spend most of their time in California during winter, the best chance of meeting them is from November to March.

Scientific Name: Bucephala Clangula
Lifespan: up to 20 years
Wingspan: 30.3-32.7 in

10. Common Merganser

Common Merganser

The Common Merganser is one of the largest merganser species – found in rivers, lakes, and other freshwater habitats throughout northern California all year round. 

They have a distinctive, serrated bill that helps them catch and hold onto fish. These ducks are also known for their striking plumage, with males having a green head and white body and females having a brown head and gray body with short crests. 

During the breeding season, males perform elaborate courtship displays, including head-bobbing, bill-pumping, and wing-flapping to lure the females.

Scientific Name: Mergus Merganser
Lifespan: up to 13 years
Wingspan: 34-37 in 

11. California Quail

California Quail

Also known as the California Valley Quail, this bird species is another permanent resident of Northern California. 

The California Quail is a small, plump bird with a distinctive black plume on its head that curves forward. These birds are a common sight in the woodlands, foothills, and gardens flying around freely all year round. 

They are some highly social birds that usually travel in flocks of 10-20 birds. Upon detecting any danger, one bird starts acting as a predator while others start eating, to protect others safe from predators

They are mainly ground-dwelling birds but can fly short distances if needed. The male birds are more brightly colored than the females, with black faces outlined in white, chestnut sides, and bluish-gray breasts.

Another noteworthy trait is that the females have a more subdued appearance, with gray-brown plumage and a smaller crest compared to the males.

Scientific Name: Callipepla Californica

Lifespan: 1 year 

Wingspan: 12-14 in

12. Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker species available in the northern parts of California all year round. They are super easy to recognize. Just spot the white bar above and underneath the eyes, and you will recognize them.

Besides, the adult male has red patches on the back side of their head. One of the key traits of these birds is they can hit the bark of a tree over 10 times a second. They even have special kinds of feathers around their nostrils that help to save them from breathing in the wooden chips. 

Downy Woodpeckers are omnivores that feed on insects, beetles, ants, caterpillars, acorns, etc. 

Like any other bird species, they also look for food around the bird feeders and are often found to eat suet and black oil sunflower seeds. 

Woodpeckers are monogamous, and the pair usually nest in the region’s trees. The female birds can lay within three to eight eggs. 

Scientific Name: Picoides Pubescens
Lifespan: up to 11 years
Wingspan: 10-12 in 

13. Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Found in the region from the spring to the fall season – the Western Kingbird is a large, flycatcher-like bird with a gray head, back, and wings and a white belly. They are one of the most common birds in the state. And are usually found in open areas such as grasslands, pastures, and agricultural fields. 

They have distinctive yellow breasts and black tails with white outer feathers that are visible in flight. They are natural omnivores and are often seen perched on fence posts, power lines, or tree branches – waiting to pounce on insects flying by. 

Western Kingbirds are mostly known for their aggressive behavior toward other birds, particularly during nesting season when they vigorously defend their territory.

Scientific name: Tyrannus verticalis
Lifespan: up to 6 years 
Wingspan: 15.5 in

14. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are known for their high-pitched and squeaky calls, which sound like a tiny toy trumpet. They are migratory birds and happen to arrive in northern California in the spring and summer to breed and raise their young. 

Moving on to the food, these bird species are said to be insectivores, feeding on small insects, like gnats, flies, spiders, etc. 

They prefer open habitats, such as woodlands, parks, and gardens, and they are a delight to watch as they move gracefully through the trees.

Scientific Name: Polioptila Caerulea
Lifespan: 3-4 years
Wingspan: 6 in

15. House Sparrow

House Sparrow

House Sparrows are one of the region’s permanent residents – commonly found in the urban, cropland, and other areas of the human habitat. This small bird species is more like a bright-colored one having gray heads, white cheeks, black bibs, and reddish-brown necks. 

They are social birds often seen in large flocks, foraging on the ground for seeds and insects. Besides, they have a distinctive chirping song and are mostly known for their adaptability to human environments.

Scientific Name: Passer Domesticus
Lifespan: 3-5 years
Wingspan: 9 in 


Whether you are a resident of the region or just passing through, exploring the common birds in Northern California is a wonderful way to connect with local nature. 

So, take some time to appreciate this incredible variety of birdlife that calls this region home. 

From tiny hummingbirds to majestic kingbirds, there’s just no shortage of avian wonders to discover. 

What are you waiting for? Grab your binoculars and hit the trails – you never know what feathered treasures you might find!

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Need clarification regarding the common birds in Northern California? If so, check out the below commonly asked questions in case you have anything in your mind to clarify:

What are some of the most common birds found in Northern California?

Some of the most common birds found in Northern California include American Robin, California Towhee, Anna’s Hummingbird, Spotted Towhee, and Song Sparrow.

What is the best time of year to go birdwatching in the region?

The best time of year to go birdwatching in Northern California depends on the species you’re looking for. Spring and fall migration periods are usually good, but some species are more active in the winter or summer.

What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of Northern California bird species?

Northern California bird species have many distinguishing characteristics, including size, color, coloration, habitat preferences, calls, and songs. For example, the Mountain Quail is a unique-looking bird found in the region’s higher elevations, while the western bluebird is commonly spotted in the open grasslands.

How can I attract more birds to my backyard in Northern California?

You can do several things to attract more birds to your backyard in Northern California. Some tips include the following, providing bird feeders with seeds and suet, planting native plants and flowers that produce seeds and berries, providing a bird bath for drinking and bathing, or might providing nesting boxes for birds that nest in cavities.

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