The Beautiful and Small Birds Of Northern California

Last Updated on April 16, 2022 by Marco C.

If you’re birdwatching in northern California, you’re probably wondering about small birds of northern California. There are many species that fit this description, but not all of them are as common. In today’s article, we’ll be listing the most common small birds you can find in northern California.

Let’s get started.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Setophaga coronata is a common bird in northern California throughout the entire year. Its natural habitat is forests, usually dense forests, where it nests in threes. It mainly feeds on insects, which it forages for in the trees.

They’re one of the most common birds you can run into in California because of their great numbers – they’re also not difficult to spot. They have three distinct yellow patches that can’t be missed given the contrast to their dark – usually grey –  and white bodies.

These birds aren’t as noticeable during the winter, so it’s best to go looking for them in spring. You can also attract them to your yard, especially if you offer sunflower seeds or raising – even though they primarily feed on insects, they definitely eat seeds out of a bird feeder.

It’s not difficult to spot them in the wild either, not just because of their coloring but because of the way they chase after insects. Typically, the males spend more time higher in the air than females, and they also stay on taller trees.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

House Finch

Another species you can come across in northern California all year long, these birds are usually found in urban areas, which makes them very easy to spot. They usually nest in trees and they forage the ground for seeds, which makes it pretty easy to attract them to your yard with a bird feeder.

They’re particularly attracted to small sunflower seeds, and you could witness massive flocks of the house finch coming to feed at your bird feeder. House finches stay close to parks in urban centers and large backyards. You can easily notice them because they flock most of the time – they’re one of the more social birds on this list.

When it comes to identification, they have a very enjoyable shade of red – a kind of rose-red – on their head, face, and chest – dropping down to their belly. The sides, wings, and back are usually light brown.

Females are entirely brown and they’re not as impressive as the males, at least regarding color.

Interestingly, these birds feed their young with plant foods only – something that we almost never see in the world of birds.

House Finch

American Robin

Up next, we have the Turdus migratorius, a species found in open woodlands where it primarily feeds on insects by foraging the ground. However, it nests high up in the trees. They’re not afraid of approaching manmade areas too, so you might find them in your yard.

In the wild, you can easily track them down by following their song. They usually flock in the trees, so you’ll be looking for more than one bird. They’re easily recognizable because of their large belly and their distinct coloring.

Their heads are usually black, with a yellow bill, grey back and wings, and a rust-colored belly (almost orange). Females look exactly the same, but their colors aren’t as intense.

Interestingly, these birds are diggers when it comes to feeding – they’ll stick their bill in the ground and pull earthworms out to eat them. It’s also not difficult to attract them to birdfeeders – they particularly like mealworms, fruit, and hulled sunflower seeds. They seem to have a routine to their feeding – preferably eating earthworms in the morning and fruit in the afternoon.

American Robin


The final entry to the list, the bushtit is a social bird most often found in shrubby habitats where it feeds on insects, but it mostly nests in trees. In the States, their population isn’t spread around the entire country, and northern California is one of few places where we can find them all year round.

Unfortunately, they’re not as easy to attract to bird feeders as other birds on this list – they mostly feed on insects and aren’t interested in seeds.

Spotting them in the wild, however, isn’t difficult – the male is a very small bird with a long tail, it’s usually almost completely white/pale grey, with some black coloring on the tail.

Females are entirely brown, with some grey coloring on the tail and on the wings. They’re very, very small birds so they could be difficult to spot from a distance.



What are the little brown birds in California?

House finches and bushtits are both brown, at least when it comes to females, and they're very small in size - so it's possible you're finding them. Keep in mind that there are thousands of species of birds in California and brown is a very common color amongst birds.

How do I identify a bird in my backyard?

Three important things - size, color, call. Telling large birds apart from small birds can immediately count many species out and knowing the color of the birds in your area can tell many other species from one another. Lastly, some birds are very similar physically, but their calls are vastly different.

What is the most common bird in California?

The house finch is the most common bird species in California. They're very easy to spot and they aren't afraid of urban environments, which allows them to inhabit essentially any area in the state.

To End

The house finch is the most common bird in California and it’s the most likely bird you can find. However, species like the American robin and the bushtit are also common – finding them and identifying them isn’t difficult.

Most of these birds, barring bushtits, are attracted to birdfeeders and you can easily lure them to your backyard, making birdwatching even more easy. Because of their distinct coloring, the American robin and the Yellow-rumped warbler are very easy to recognize, while the house finch could be a bit more difficult to recognize.

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