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Northern California Bird Identification

28 14:26:03

Northern California Bird Identification

Northern California Bird Identification. Northern California, which contains the redwood forests, San Francisco Bay area, the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Valley, Mount Shasta and the Big Sur coastline, is home to a variety of bird species. Both rare and common bird species call these areas their home, from the American bittern to the zone-tailed hawk, with more than 600 bird species in all.

Northern California is home to many bird species.


A pair of binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens will be useful in helping you to identify the small details that differentiate certain species and subspecies of birds. A camera will allow you to refer to the image of each bird later when you can consult a field guide. It is beneficial to keep a field guide on you as well while birdwatching, especially one that is tailored specifically to birds in the region.


There are a variety of bird species that call Northern California their home. These species fall into a number of different categories, including passerines, or perching birds, and non-passerines. Northern California is home to ducks, geese and swans, including the emperor goose and the fulvous whistling duck, and old-world quail, turkeys, grouse and partridges, including the ring-necked pheasant and the sooty grouse. Northern California is also home to grebes, albatross, boobies, pelicans, cormorants, egrets, herons, bitterns, ibises, spoonbills, storks, vultures, eagles, falcons, cranes, plovers, gulls, terns, sandpipers and a variety of other bird families.

Habitat and Behavior

The habitat of the bird and its behavioral characteristics can help you narrow down the available choices when identifying birds in Northern California. Take note of behavioral characteristics or information about the bird's habitat for later identification. Details such as how the species catches food or eats, whether it swims, whether it roosts in trees or brush and other such details can help you determine what species you have encountered. You should also look at the area where the bird has been spotted, as coastal areas play home to different species than inland areas, wooded areas and water features, for example.

Physical Identification

The physical appearance of the bird can tell you a great deal about its species, though many subspecies look similar with only minute differences in the finer details of their appearance. The size and shape of the bird, the characteristics of its beak and tail and the colors of the beak, plumage and feet can all play a role in bird identification. Try to take note of the most distinctive details as these will help you narrow down the right identification.

Songs and Calls

The songs, sounds and calls that a bird uses to communicate can also contribute to its identification. Bird sounds and songs are categorized based on the number of unique notes. Single-note sounds include hoots, chips, honks and trills. Two-note songs can vary in quality or pitch, and songs of three or more notes can be more complicated and include whistles, squawks and whinnies. Bird sound identification guides can help you use your observations to identify bird species based on how they communicate.


  • "Birds of Northern California"; David Fix; 2000
  • Smithsonian Institution: Guide to North American Bird Songs and Sounds