California Backyard Feeder Birds: The Definitive Guide

Here, I share my identification guide for the birds that visit backyard feeders in the State of California. I have prepared custom identification pictures and gathered information about the 28 species most frequently reported at feeders by folks that feed backyard birds in the Golden State. In addition to the ID images, I have also included the songs and calls of each bird. Let’s see what I have put together!

  • Click open the table (arrow) of contents below to jump to a species account, or scroll down and navigate this guide.

Backyard birders will find the guide to backyard feeder birds of the State of California useful as an identification and reference tool. 

Birds included in this guide are the twenty eight (28) most frequently reported species by enthusiasts in the region participating in Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Feederwatch Program. Each species account includes an identification plate, voice, preferred food and feeder, preferred backyard type, presence in the region, behavior at feeders, breeding biology, and lifespan.

Backyard Feeder Birds in California

Most of the birds visiting backyard bird feeders in the State of California are widespread and occur in more than one region. Some occur in most of the United States and Canada.

Feeder birds in the State of California are primarily sparrows, finches, and their allies. This group also includes siskins, goldfinches, grosbeaks, and juncos.

Other groups are represented by fewer species. For instance, woodpeckers include five species, while blackbirds include four species. The remaining groups include only one or two species.

Bird groups visiting backyard feeders in the State of California.

Bird groups and the number of species per group visiting bird feeders in the State of California.

  • Sparrows, Finches, and their allies: 11 species.
  • Titmouse and Chickadees: 4 species.
  • Jays and Crows: 3 species.
  • Woodpeckers: 2 species.
  • Doves: 2 species.
  • Robins and Thrushes: 1 species.
  • Nuthatches: 1 species.
  • Mockingbird: 1 species.
  • Wrens: 1 species.
  • Starlings: 1 species.
  • Warblers: 1 species

Most backyard feeder birds have flexible diets and behavior

Birds that visit bird feeders are a small subset of the birds in the region. The State of California is home to many birds that eat insects. One would expect that insect-eating birds would make the largest group of birds visiting bird feeders. However, grain and seed-eating birds compose the largest group.

Birds visiting backyard feeders are also a subset with flexible behaviors. Regardless of their diets, these birds have not only learned to live near humans but also to take advantage of the food provided by them. There are many bird species that have not been able to break through either barrier. 

Identification pictures of species that come to backyard bird feeders in the State of California

Identifying backyard birds gives many hours of enjoyment to thousands of people in the State of California. This guide will help you recognize male, female, and juvenile plumages, as well as the little brown ones. The illustrations point to birds’ markings to pay attention to.

Each species account includes aspects of the bird’s natural history, enhancing the backyard bird feeding experience.

Recognizing the species of birds visiting your backyard is not only rewarding but can also help them. Backyard birders can contribute to these birds’ study and conservation by submitting their sightings to databases for scientific research.

Knowing which birds come to your bird feeder can help you improve your feeding strategy! If you pay attention to the birds that visit your feeders and those that don’t, you can choose the right food and feeder type to attract and keep the desired birds coming back for more. So, it’s a win-win situation: you get to enjoy watching birds at home, and they get to enjoy a tasty meal.

House finches like hulled sunflower seeds, while American goldfinches prefer nyjer or thistle seed.

List of birds that visit backyard feeders in the State of California

Birds visit backyard feeders at different rates and times of the year. This is because birds can be year-round residents or migratory.

Migratory species move from region to region in search of food, better breeding opportunities, or to avoid harsh weather conditions. This can explain why some birds visit your feeders for a few months or even weeks, and then disappear, while the resident species keep coming back year-round.

Reproductive stages also influence the rate of feeder visitations. Parents that are feeding young in the nest switch their diets to protein-rich foods such as insects. These birds visit feeders offering bird seeds less frequently. 

The following list includes the 28 most frequently reported backyard feeder birds in the State of California.

NumberSpecies Name
#1Cassin’s Finch
#2House Finch
#3Golden-crowned Sparrow
#4White-crowned Sparrow
#5Spotted Towhee
#6California Towhee
#7Dark-eyed Junco
#8Lesser Goldfinch
#9American Goldfinch
#10Pine Siskin
#11House Sparrow
#12Mourning Dove
#13Eurasian Collared-Dove
#14Northern Mockingbird
#15European Starling
#16Steller’s Jay
#17California Scrub-Jay
#18American Crow
#19American Robin
#20Nuttall’s Woodpecker
#21Northern Flicker
#22Chestnut-backed chickadee
#23Mountain Chickadee
#24Bushtit
#25Oak Titmouse
#26White-breasted Nuthatch
#27Bewick’s Wren
#28Yellow-rumped Warbler

SPARROWS, FINCHES, & ALLIES

In the State of California, sparrows, finches, and their allies constitute the largest group of backyard feeder birds. Most are ground-feeder birds that feed on platforms, hoppers, and tube feeders.

Birds in this group have heavy, conical, seed-crushing bills. Backyard feeders generally offer seeds and grains that sparrows, finches, grosbeaks, and buntings like. Some birds in this group take more insects and other invertebrates during the breeding season and switch to a large seed and grain diet during the rest of the year. 


Cassin’s Finch

Length 6.3″ – Weight 1 oz

Identification: The male cassin’s finch (Haemorhous cassinii) has a red-brown head, rosy throat and breast, and a bright raspberry red cap. Note the dark streaks on the upperparts and no marking on the underparts. The female is gray-brown, heavily streaked below with a patterned head.
Food: They are primarily seed-eaters, so providing a variety of seeds, such as s black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, nyjer, and millet are likely to attract them to your backyard.
Feeder: It favors platform feeders but can use large and small tube feeders.
Presence: The Cassin’s finch can be expected at feeder all year-round in the eastern half of the State of California. However, their appearance at feeders can be unpredictable.
Behavior: It is not aggressive at feeders.
Backyard: Cassin’s Finches prefer backyards that have a mix of open spaces, shrubs, and trees, as well as a source of water.
Nest: As with other finches, the nest of the Cassin’s Finch is cup-shaped and made of twigs, grasses, and rootlets, lined with soft materials such as hair or feathers..
Breeding season: Cassin’s Finches typically breed in the late spring and summer, from May to July.
Breeding period: The purple finch lays 3-6 greenish eggs with dusky specks. It takes approximately 26 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 14 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Cassin’s finches live at least 7 years.


House Finch

house-finch-
Length 6″, Weight 0.7 oz

Identification: The male house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) has red on the head and breast, contrasting with the gray-brown of the rest of the body. A few males have yellow instead of red. Females are gray-brown streaked with black on the back, breast, and belly.
Food: Attract house finches with black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, and nyjer.
Feeder: It favors large tube feed, small and large hopper, and platform feeders.
Presence: The house finch is a year-round resident and can be expected year-round in most of the State of California.
Behavior: House finches are surprisingly submissive to even smaller birds. They generally interact well with other birds at feeders.
Backyard: Favors human-created habitats and are common in suburban settings.
Nest: House finches build an open cup surrounded by twigs in trees, cactus, and rock ledges. It also nests in light fixtures, house decorations, hanging planters, and building ledges.
Breeding season: The house finch breeds from late March through early August.
Breeding period: The house finch lays 2-6 bluish-white eggs dotted with brown. It takes about 29 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 16 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: House finches live at least 11 years and 7 months.


Golden-crowned Sparrow

Length 7.25″ – Weight 1 oz

Identification: The golden-crowned sparrow ( Zonotrichia atricapilla) has a grayish-brown back streaked with black. The sides of the face and throat are gray. It has a black cap with a distinctive golden-yellow crown stripe. The underparts are gray-brown with faint mottling.
Food: Golden-crowned Sparrows enjoy a variety of seeds, including sunflower seeds, millet, peanut hearts, and safflower.
Feeder: Golden-crowned Sparrows prefer feeding on the ground or on a platform, so providing a platform feeder is a good option.
Presence: Expect golden-crowned sparrows in the Fall and Winter in the western half of California. They return to their northern breeding grounds in the Spring and Summer.
Behavior: Like other ground feeders, golden-crowned sparrows interact peacefully with other ground feeders. They can be pushed aside from platform feeders by more aggressive birds.
Backyard: The golden-crowned favors overgrown fields and brushy areas, particularly during migration. Yards that resemble this habitat type are likely to attract them.
Nest: Golden-crowned sparrows build their nests on or near the ground, usually in dense shrubs or in grassy areas with some cover. It builds a bulky cup made of grasses, leaves, bark, moss, which is lined with fine grasses and hair.
Breeding season: The golden-crowned sparrow’s breeding season varies regionally but is generally from June through early-August.
Breeding period: Golden-crowned sparrows lay 3-5 bluish to greenish eggs spotted with brown concentrated on the wide side of the egg. It takes about 22 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 10 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Golden-crowned sparrows live at least 10 years and 6 months.


White-crowned Sparrow

Length 9.5″, Weight 1 oz

Identification: The white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys) has black and white stripes on the crown (adults). The head and breast areas are gray. It is a large and relatively long-tailed sparrow. Immature birds have tan and brown head stripes. The bill color varies from yellow-orange to pink.
Food: Attract white-crowned sparrows with black oil and hulled sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and milo.
Feeder: White-crowned sparrows feed mainly on the ground but take platform feeders.
Presence: The white-crowned sparrow can be expected at feeder all year-round.
Behavior: Like other ground feeders, white-crowned sparrows interact peacefully with other ground feeders. They can be pushed aside from platform feeders by more aggressive birds.
Backyard: The white-crowned favors overgrown fields and brushy areas, particularly during migration. Yards that resemble this habitat type are likely to attract white-crowned sparrows.
Nest: White-crowned sparrows build a cup-shaped nest in shrubs or bushes at various heights (2-5 feet) from the ground. They can also nest on the ground where tall shrubs are not available.
Breeding season: The white-crowned sparrow’s breeding season varies regionally but is generally from May through mid-August.
Breeding period: The white-crowned sparrow lays 3-7 bluish to greenish eggs spotted with brown concentrated on the wide side of the egg. It takes about 22 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 9 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: White-crowned sparrows live at least 13 years and 4 months.


Spotted Towhee

Length 8.5 ” – Weight 1.4 oz

Identification: The male spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) has a black hood, breast and back spotted with bold white spots. It has chestnut sides and white belly. The female is a slightly dull version of the male. Both sexes have red eyes.
Food: Attract spotted towhees with black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
Feeder: This towhee is largely a ground feeder that takes seeds spilled below elevated feeders. It uses platform feeders and, less often, hopper feeders.
Presence: Spotted towhees have resident populations as well as birds that expand and contract their ranges throughout the year. While they can be unpredictable, you can expect to see spotted towhees in your backyard feeders during the fall and winter months, when natural food sources become scarcer.
Behavior: Spotted towhees feed mostly on the ground along with other ground feeders, which are generally not aggressive to each other.
Backyard: This bird occurs in dense low vegetation and is reluctant to venture away from it. It is more likely to visit backyard feeders located adjacent to this habitat type.
Nest: Spotted towhees nest in accumulations of leaf litter on the ground. Less often in vine tangles above the ground.
Breeding season: It lays 2-6 white to greenish eggs speckled with reddish spots eggs. It takes approximately 24 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 11 days) until fledging.
Breeding Period: It lays 2-6 white to greenish eggs speckled with reddish spots eggs. It takes approximately 24 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 11 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Spotted towhees live at least 11 years.


California Towhee

Length 9.1 ” – Weight 1.9 oz

Identification: The California towhee (Melozone crissalis) is a rather non-descript bird. Both male and female are uniformly gray-brown with a rusty lower belly and undertail feathers. The throat is warm brown.
Food: Attract California towhees with black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
Feeder: This towhee is largely a ground feeder that takes seeds spilled below elevated feeders. It uses platform feeders and, less often, hopper feeders.
Presence: The California towhee’s range is restricted to the State of California where it is a year-round resident. It can be expected at backyard bird feeders any time of the year.
Behavior: California towhees feed mostly on the ground along with other ground feeders, which are generally not aggressive to each other.
Backyard: This bird occurs in scrub or mixed scrub vegetation and is generally reluctant to venture away from it. It is more likely to visit backyard feeders located adjacent to its preferred habitat.
Nest: The California towhee nest on branches of trees, thick forks of scrub vegetation generally within 6 feet from the ground on average.
Breeding season: The California towhee breeds from late February through mid August.
Breeding Period: It lays 2-5 white to bluish eggs speckled with reddish brown spots . It takes approximately 23 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 9 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: California towhees live at least 12 years and 8 months.


Dark-eyed Junco

dark-eyed junco-western US
Length 5.5″, Weight 0.5 oz

Identification: The male dark-eyed junco (Melospiza melodia) is slate gray and white. Females are a dull grayish-brown version of the male. Both sexes have pink bills and white outer tail feathers.
Food: Attract juncos with black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
Feeder: It feeds mostly on the ground, eating birdseed spilled by elevated feeders. It readily uses platform and hopper feeders.
Presence: The dark-eyed junco can be expected in most of State of California as a Fall and Winter visitor.
Behavior: Not an aggressive bird that visits backyards often in flocks. Easily displaced by more aggressive birds.
Backyard: The dark-eyed junco forages in semi-open areas with some vegetation cover. Favors backyards that offer vegetation cover near the feeders.
Nest: The Dark-eyed junco builds a cup-shaped on sloping ground or similar structures, such as among the large roots of upturned trees.
Breeding season: The dark-eyed junco breeds from mid-April through late August.
Breeding period: Dark-eyed juncos lay 3-6 pale greenish spotted with brown eggs. It takes approximately 25 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 12 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Dark-eyed juncos live at least 11 years and four months.


Lesser Goldfinch

Length 4.5″ – Weight 0.3 oz

Identification: The back color of an adult male lesser goldfinch (Spinus psaltria) can be olive-green with dark wings and a black cap in most of its range. Birds of Texas and South America have solid black upperparts and top of the head. Females have olive upperparts and yellowish underparts.
Food: Attract lesser goldfinches to your yards with nyjer seeds, hulled sunflower, and black-oil sunflower seeds.
Feeder: It favors large and small tube feeders, large hopper and platform feeders.
Presence: Lesser goldfinches can be expected only during Spring and Summer in southern California.
Behavior: Non-aggressive and easy-going at feeders. Submissive to most other feeder birds. Often clings to feeders horizontally.
Backyard: Shrubs, tall weeds, and seed-producing weeds attract lesser goldfinches.
Nest: Lesser goldfinches build a neat cup-shaped nest on twigs, dense shrubs, and dense foliage in overhanging branches of trees 4 to 15 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: The lesser goldfinch breeds Goldfinches breed in April through mid-August in the northern part of its range and mid-May through October in the southern part.
Breeding Period: The lesser goldfinch lays 3-6 bluish and unmarked eggs. It takes about 276 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 13 day) until fledging.
Lifespan: Lesser goldfinches live at least 7 years.


American Goldfinch

Length 5″, Weight 0.5 oz

Identification: The American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is in its winter plumage consisting of an unmarked brown with blackish wings and two broad pale wing bars. Breeding males replace the brown with bright yellow and a black cap.
Food: Attract American goldfinches to your yards with hulled sunflower and nyjer seeds.
Feeder: It favors large and small tube feeders, large hopper and platform feeders, and the ground.
Presence: The American goldfinch can be expected in State of California as a breeder and non breeder any time of the year.
Behavior: Non-aggressive and easy-going at feeders. Submissive to most other feeder birds. Often clings to feeders horizontally.
Backyard: Shrubs, tall weeds, and seed-producing weeds attract American goldfinches.
Nest: American goldfinches build a neat cup-shaped nest on twigs, dense shrubs, and dense foliage in overhanging branches of trees 4 to 15 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: Goldfinches breed in early June through late September.
Breeding period: The American goldfinch lays 2-7 pale bluish-white eggs with brownish dots on the wide side of the egg. It takes about 27 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 d, nestling period 14 d) until fledging.
Lifespan: American goldfinches live at least 7 years.


Pine Siskin

pine-siskin
Length 5″, Weight 0.5 oz

Identification: The pine siskin (Spinus spinus) is a small finch, all brown and streaked with black. It has a pointed bill and a notched tail. Males show a variable amount of yellow on the wing.
Food: Attract pine siskins with small seeds such as thistle or nyjer, millet, and hulled sunflower seeds. They can also take peanut hearts and suet.
Feeder: Pine siskins tend to cling to vertical stems and also do so on bird feeders. They favor large tube, large hopper, and platform feeders.
Presence: Pine siskins can be expected at backyard bird feeders year-round in most of State of California.
Behavior: A nomadic bird, pine siskins can visit feeders one year and disappear the next. Non-aggressive and displaced by larger birds. Thistle feeders exclude most other birds.
Backyard: It is attracted to yards with shrubs and plenty of weeds with small seeds.
Nest: Pine siskins build a cup-shaped nest concealed in dense foliage on overhanging branches. Several pairs may nest in close proximity.
Breeding season: This siskin breeds between March through August.
Breeding period: Pine siskins lay 3-5 greenish with light brown specks eggs. It takes approximately 28 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 15 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: They live at least nine years and 2 months.


House Sparrow

Length 6.3″, Weight 0.98 oz

Identification: Males house sparrows (Passer domesticus) have rich-brown and patterned back, chestnut napes, and a black bib that varies with age. The forehead and underparts are gray. Females are brown with a patterned back. Immatures look like females.
Food: House sparrows like black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seed, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, and milo.
Feeder: They favor large tube, large hopper, and platform feeders. They also feed on the ground.
Presence: The house sparrow is a year-round resident in the State of California and can be expected at backyard bird feeders throughout the year.
Behavior: It can be aggressive to other birds at feeders. Dominant over same-sized and smaller birds.
Backyard: Favors open habitats, farmland, and urban areas. Visits all types of backyards.
Nest: House sparrows build large, bulky, and messy-looking nests with a side entrance. It uses cavities, light fixtures, tangled vines, and just about any structure to place a nest.
Breeding season: House sparrows breed in early March through late September.
Breeding Period: House sparrows lay 1-8 variable whitish, bluish, or greenish eggs spotted with gray. It takes about 26 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 13 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: House sparrows live at least 15 years and nine months.


DOVES AND PIGEONS

In the State of California, doves are represented only by two species. Doves and pigeons are entirely vegetarian at all times of the year. They have a weak straight bill adapted to pick seeds and grains and swallow them whole. They are unable to crush seeds as finches and sparrows do. Some may take small berries. 


Mourning Dove

Length 12″, Weight 4.2 oz

Identification: The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is all brown with dark spots on the wing. Juveniles have pale edging on feathers.
Food: Attract mourning doves with hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, oats, and milo.
Feeder: It feeds mostly on the ground, below elevated feeders. The mourning dove also uses platform and large hopper feeders.
Presence: Mourning doves are year-round residents in the State of California.
Behavior: The mourning dove is non-aggressive at feeders but stands its ground against other birds. Submissive to blue jays, blackbirds, and crows.
Backyard: It favors relatively open yards where it usually feeds on spilled seeds on the ground below hanging feeders.
Nest: Mourning doves build a precarious platform of twigs placed in a fork, branch, or dense foliage, usually 10 to 15 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: Mourning doves breed in mid-February through early October.
Breeding period: The female lays 2 white eggs. It takes about 27 days from egg-laying (incubation period 14 days, nestling period 14 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Mourning doves live at least 30 years and four months.


Eurasian Collared-Dove

Length 13″, Weight 7 oz

Identification: The Eurasian collared-dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is buffy-brown with a black incomplete collar on the neck. It has a relatively long tail with a pale terminal band. Both sexes look alike.
Food: Attract Eurasian collared-doves with hulled sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanut hearts, millet, oats, and milo.
Feeder: It usually feeds on the ground but can use large hopper and platform feeders.
Presence: The Eurasian collared-dove has expanded to the State of California and can be expected at feeders year-round.
Behavior: This dove is not aggressive to other birds at feeders. It may be submissive to other, even smaller birds.
Backyard: Favors semi-open woodlands, farmland, and urban areas. Visits open yards, usually in pairs feeding on spilled seeds on the ground, below hanging feeders.
Nest: The Eurasian collared-dove builds a simple platform of twigs, usually at about 10 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: They breed in late March through mid-September.
Breeding Period: The Eurasian collared-dove lays 1-2 white unmarked eggs. It takes about 30 days from egg-laying (incubation period 16 days, nestling period 14 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Eurasian collared doves live at least 13 years and 8 months.


MOCKINGBIRDS, THRASHERS, & CATBIRDS

Mockingbirds and thrashers belong to the family Mimidae (Mimids). These birds delight Central Rgion backyard birders with not only their presence but also their songs. All are great songsters, and some are vocal mimics that incorporate parts of other local birds’ songs into their repertoire.

Mimids feed on insects and fruit. They use their bill to toss leaves and sticks or rake through leaf litter in search of food. They do something similar at bird feeders spilling over birdseed as they search for their favorite seed.


Northern Mockingbird

Length 10″, Weight 1.7 oz

Identification: The northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is gray above and whitish gray below. In flight, it flashes white patches on the wings and white streaks on the long tail. Note its pale eyes.
Food: Attract northern mockingbirds with hulled sunflower seeds, suet, peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms.
Feeder: It favors platform feeders and the ground.
Presence: The northern mockingbird can be expected at feeder any time of the year in the State of California.
Behavior: Non-aggressive at feeders and submissive to most other birds.
Backyard: Northern mockingbirds do well in all vegetation types, including yards in urban areas with little vegetation.
Nest: The northern mockingbird builds an open cup-shaped nest in dense shrubs, usually 2-10 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: Northern mockingbirds breed in late February through mid-September.
Breeding period: Northern mockingbirds lay 2-6 bluish or greenish eggs blotched with brown. It takes about 25 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period: 12 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: The northern mockingbird lives at least 11 years and 7 months.


STARLINGS

The European starling is an introduced bird now common and well-established in North America. Their general appearance in flight resembles that of cedar waxwings and purple martins. Starlings are often not welcome at bird feeders as they often come in flocks and bully other birds.


European Starling

Length 6″, Weight 0.7 oz

Identification: European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) look dark. A close look reveals iridescent purple and green shades with creamy spots. Both the bill and wings are pointed. A juvenile bird is a plain gray color.
Food: European starlings like all types of bird food, including fruit and suet. Some backyard birders deter starlings from their feeders.
Feeder: It favors platform and large hopper feeders, but it is comfortable feeding on the ground.
Presence: The European starling can be expected at feeders any time of the year in the State of California.
Behavior: Starlings are one of the most dominant and aggressive birds at backyard feeders. This is why backyard birders dislike them.
Backyard: Starlings favor all types of mainly human-created habitats, including urban and suburban ones.
Nest: The European starling builds a bulky and messy nest with a central cup. Nesting takes place in cavities, enclosures, or unused woodpecker cavities.
Breeding season: The European starling breeds in mid-April through early July.
Breeding period: Pairs lay 3-6 bluish or pale blue unmarked eggs. It takes about 33 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 21 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: European starlings live at least 15 years and 3 months.


JAYS & CROWS

Jays and crows belong to the avian family Corvidae (Corvids), which are among the most familiar birds to many. The steller’s jay jay is a frequent visitor to bird feeders in the State of California.

Corvids are diet generalists, including just about anything edible in their diets. They can eat seeds, fruits, insects, and even small mammals. They are bird nest robbers, and some feed on carrion. Corvids are opportunistic and visit all types of backyard feeders that offer any type of food. 


Steller’s Jay

Length 11.5″ – Weight 3.7 oz

Identification: The steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) has dark-gray head, back, and breast. The posterior half is blue with black barring on the wings and tail. It has a conspicuous black crest.
Food: Steller’s jays are food generalists and eat just about anything put on bird feeders. They like cracked corn, peanuts, peanuts hearts, and milo, and black oil sunflower seed.
Feeder: Feeder: Steller’s jays favor large hopper feeders, platform feeders, large tube feeders, and the ground.
Presence: Steller’s jays are year-round residents in most of the State of California.
Behavior: Aggressive and dominant at feeders. Submissive only to starlings, common grackles, some woodpeckers, and crows.
Backyard: Favors all yard conditions in areas dominated by coniferous and coniferous deciduous habitats.
Nest: Steller’s jays build fairly large nests with a central cup, which is lined with fine material usually within 10-25 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: Steller’s jays breed in late March through late July.
Breeding period: Steller’s jays lay 2-6 bluish spotted with brown spots. It takes about 32 days from egg-laying (incubation period 16 days, nestling period 16 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Steller’s jays live at least 16 years.


California Scrub-Jay

Length 11.4″ – Weight 3 oz

Identification: The California scrub-jay (Aphelocoma californica) has the head, neck, wings, and tail blue. The throat and breast are creamy white. The belly is brown. It has a distinctively long tail.
Food: The california scrub-jay is food generalists and eat just about anything put on bird feeders. They like cracked corn, peanuts, peanuts hearts, and milo, and black oil sunflower seed.
Feeder: California scrub-jays favor platform and large hopper feeders. They readily take to the ground.
Presence: California scrub-jays are year-round residents in the State of California.
Behavior: Aggressive and dominant at feeders. Submissive only to crowns, grackles, and some woodpeckers.
Backyard: Favors all yard conditions in areas dominated by scrub and deciduous habitats.
Nest: They build a fairly large nest with a central cup, which is lined with fine material usually within 7-8 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: California scrub-jays breed from mid-March through mid-July.
Breeding period: California scrub-jays lay 2-5 greenish spotted with brown eggs. It takes about 36 days from egg-laying (incubation period 18 days, nestling period 18 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: California srub-jays live at least 16 years.


American Crow

Length 17.5″, Weight 1 lb

Identification: The American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) is all black. It is large and social, moving about in flocks of various sizes. Juvenile birds have dull black plumages without the glossy appearance of the adult.
Food: Attract American crows with oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, safflower, nyjer, cracked corn, peanut hearts, fruit, millet, oats, and milo.
Feeder: The American crow favors platform feeders and the Ground.
Presence: American crows can be expected at feeders any time of the year.
Behavior: Aggressive and dominant over most other feeder birds. Takes over feeders when present.
Backyard: Favors open country, agricultural fields, and similar open habitats. Present in some urban areas but not in others.
Nest: It builds a simple platform or accumulation of twigs in trees or tall shrubs 10 to 70 above the ground.
Breeding season: American crows breed in mid-March through late July.
Breeding period: The American crow lays 3-9 greenish-olive eggs blotched with brown concentrated on the wide side of the egg. It takes about 47 days from egg-laying (incubation period 17 days, nestling period 30 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: American crows live at least 17 years and five months.


Thrushes & Robins

Bluebirds and Robins belong to the avian family Turdidae. In the State of California, bird feeder visitors in this family include the eastern bluebird and the American robin.

Robins and bluebirds feed mostly on insects and little fruit during the breeding season. During the non-breeding season, their diet includes a greater proportion of fruit. They generally visit bird feeders that offer mealworms and suet.


American Robin

Length 10″, Weight 2.7 oz

Identification: The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is gray above with a blackish head and yellow-orange bill. Reddish-brown below. Colors are more saturated during the breeding season.
Food: Attract American robins with hulled sunflower seeds, suet, peanut hearts, fruit, and mealworms.
Feeder: It favors platform feeders and the ground.
Presence: The American Robin is a year-round resident in most of the State of California.
Behavior: Non-aggressive at feeders. Usually feeds on the ground and jumps to platform feeders.
Backyard: Favors relatively open habitats and yards with feeders in open spaces.
Nest: It builds a well-shaped cup on forks or horizontal branches 5-25 feet above the ground. They can also nest on the ground, light fixtures, house ledges, and bridges.
Breeding season: American robins breed in April through mid-August.
Breeding period: The American Robin lays 3-5 distinctively blue eggs with no markings. It takes about 26 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 14 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: American robins live at least 13 years and 11 months.


WOODPECKERS

Three woodpeckers are regular visitors to backyard bird feeders in the State of California. Woodpeckers feed on insects, other arthropods, fruit, nectar, and seeds. The red-bellied woodpecker often takes seeds from feeders to cash elsewhere for later consumption.


Nuttall’s Woodpecker

Length 6.7″, Weight 1.3 oz

Identification: The nuttall’s woodpecker (Dryobates nuttallii) is a small black and white woodpecker. Its back is barred but the sides of the breast and belly are spotted. The head is patterned with black and white and only adult male has a red nape.
Food: Attract nuttall’s woodpeckers with suet, black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, peanuts, peanut hearts, and mealworms.
Feeder: They favor suet cages, large and small hopper, and platform feeders.
Presence: The nuttall’s woodpecker is a year-round resident in the State of California and visit backyard bird feeders any time of the year.
Behavior: Generally non-aggressive but dominant over smaller birds and submissive to larger ones.
Backyard: Nuttall’s woodpeckers favors semi-open woodlands and wooded urban areas. They are more likely to visit backyard feeders located in or near these habitat types.
Nest: Nuttall’s woodpeckers nest in cavities they excavate in dead branches at variable heights from the ground.
Breeding season: They breed from early April through mid-July.
Breeding period: Nuttall’s woodpeckers lay 3-6 pure white and round eggs.
Lifespan: Nuttall’s woodpeckers live at least 9 years.


Northern Flicker

Length 11.1″, Weight 4.8 oz

Identification: The northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) is one of the largest woodpeckers in the State of California. It is warm brown with black barring on the back and wings and large black spots on the belly. It has a conspicuous black crescent on the chest. Males have a black malar stripe, which is missing in the female.
Food: Attract Northern flickers with black oil sunflower seed, hulled sunflower seeds, and suet.
Feeder: Northern flickers favors suet cages, large hopper, and platform feeders.
Presence: The northern flicker is a year-round resident in the State of California and can be expected at feeders any time of the year.
Behavior: Northern flickers are not particularly aggressive to other birds at feeders but are dominant over smaller-sized birds.
Backyard: Favors semi-open habitats with plenty of open ground, including suburban areas.
Nest: The northern flicker nest in cavities it excavates in rotten wood.
Breeding season: The northern flicker breeds from May through early August.
Breeding period: The northern flicker lays 5-8 pure white and unmarked eggs. It takes about 37 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 25 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Northern flickers live at least 9 years and 2 months.


CHICKADEES & BUSHTITS

Titmice and chickadees belong to the avian family Paridae. They feed mostly on insects, but when they are scarce, they switch to seeds, buds, and fruit.

As the cold winter, months approach chickadee and bushtits store food for later consumption. They are often observed taking food from feeders into the woods to consume or cash it in the bark of trees and holes for later consumption.


Chestnut-backed chickadee

Length 4.7″ – Weight 0.34 oz

Identification: The chestnut-backed chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) has a similar coloration as the black-capped chickadee but has the back and sides rich chestnut.
Food: Attract chestnut-backed chickadees with black oil sunflower seeds, hulled sunflower seeds, nyjer, and suet,
Feeder: It favors large and small tube feeders, hopper, and platform feeders.
Presence: The chestnut-backed chickadee is a year-round resident along the coastal region of the State of California.
Behavior: Non-aggressive at feeders. It usually takes one seed at a time and leaves to eat it or store it before it returns for more. Submissive to most birds visiting feeders.
Backyard: Chickadees are birds of woodlands. Readily visit the feeder placed near its natural habitat.
Nest: It nests in cavities the two members of the pair excavate in rotten or soft wood. It also uses existing cavities such as those excavated by woodpeckers.
Breeding season: Chesnut-backed chickadees breed in early March through late June.
Breeding period: They lay 3-10 eggs, white with brown spots concentrated on the wide side of the egg. It takes about 34 days from egg-laying (incubation period 15 days, nestling period 19 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Chestnut-backed chickadees live at least 9 years and 6 months.


Mountain Chickadee

Length 5.25″ – Weight 0.4 oz

Identification: The mountain chickadee (Poecile gambeli) is very similar to the better known black-capped chickadee except for the white stripe above the eye.
Food: Attract mountain chickadees with hulled sunflower seeds, black oil sunflower seed, nyjer, suet, peanuts, peanut hearts, and mealworms.
Feeder: It favors Large and small tube feeders, suet cages, large hoppers, and platform feeders.
Presence: The mountain chickadee is a year-round resident in the mountains of the State of California. It is absent from areas of low elevation. .
Behavior: Non-aggressive at feeders. It usually takes one seed at a time and leaves to eat it or store it before it returns to the feeder for more. Submissive to most birds visiting backyard feeders.
Backyard: Chickadees are birds of woodlands. They readily visit feeders placed within its natural habitat.
Nest: It nests in cavities that pairs excavate in rotten or soft wood. I also use existing cavities such as those excavated by woodpeckers.
Breeding season: Mountain chickadees breed in mid-April through mid-August.
Breeding period: Mountain chickadees lay 5-9 eggs, white eggs. It takes about 33 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 20 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: The Mountain chickadee lives at least 10 years.


Bushtit

Length 4.5″ – Weight 0.2 oz

Identification: The bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus) small bird of various tones of gray and a long tail. It has a tiny stubby black bill. Some populations have a brown top of the head.
Food: Bushtits are uncommon visitors to feeders. Since they feed on insects, mealworms and suet can be used to lure them to your feeders. They also like hulled sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Feeder: Bushtits favor hopper and platform feeders that can hold a cup with mealworms. Large and small tube feeders with hulled sunflower seeds and a suet cage can also be used.
Presence: Bushtits are year-round residents in most of the State of California.
Behavior: Non-aggressive at feeders. Submissive to most birds visiting feeders.
Backyard: Bushtits favor tall shrubs, scrub bushes and small trees that resemble their natural habitats.
Nest: Bushtits build a bag-like nest made with spider web mixed with tiny twigs and pieces of dead leaves. The nest is an elaborate work that takes weeks to complete.
Breeding season: Bushtits are cooperative breeders and have a long breeding season starting in early March through mid-August.
Breeding period: Bushtits lay 4-10 white eggs. It takes about 20 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 18 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Bushtits lives at least 9 years.


Oak Titmouse

Length 5.7″ – Weight 0.65 oz

Identification: The oak titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus) is a small nondescript bird. Its plumage is mostly gray with shades of brown. It has a conspicuous crest. Both sexes are similar.
Food: The oak titmouse is a frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders. They normally feed on insects, but readily take hulled sunflowers seeds, cracked peanuts, millet, mealworms and suet.
Feeder: It favors hopper and platform feeders, tube feeders and quickly learn to use suet cages.
Presence: The oak titmouse is a year-round resident bird in most of the State of California.
Behavior: Non-aggressive at feeders. Submissive to most birds visiting feeders.
Backyard: The oak titmouse is a bird that favor dense foliage. It is more likely to visit feeders located near dense foliage.
Nest: It builds a cup-shaped nest inside natural cavities or those excavated by woodpecker.
Breeding season: The oak titmouse breeds from mid-March through mid-July.
Breeding period: A female oak titmouse lays 3-8 white, often speckled with brown eggs. It takes about 34 days from egg-laying (incubation period 15 days, nestling period 19 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: The oak titmouse lives at least 9 years.


NUTHATCHES

The State of California has one nuthatches that frequently visits backyard bird feeders. Nuthatches are small birds with relatively long bills that belong to the avian family Sittidae.

Nuthatches use a peculiar tree-climbing method using only their strong legs and feet. Unlike woodpeckers, nuthatches do not use their tail as props and climb trees in all directions, including vertically head down.

They feed on small insects and seeds and regularly associate with specific habitat types. They are more likely to visit bird feeders located in backyards near their preferred habitat.


White-breasted Nuthatch

Length 5.7″, Weight 0.7 oz

Identification: The white-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) has white sides of the head, throat, and belly. It has a black narrow cap and a bluish-gray back. The lower belly is chestnut.
Food: Attract white-breasted nuthatch with peanut hearts, hulled sunflower seeds, and suet. It also takes millet.
Feeder: It clings, often head-down, to large tube, large hopper, and platform feeders.
Presence: The white-breasted nuthatch is a year-round resident in the State of California and can be expected at bird feeders any time.
Behavior: This small nuthatch can be feisty and aggressive towards other birds but loses to cardinals, woodpeckers, grackles, and blue jays.
Backyard: The white-breasted nuthatch is a bird of deciduous and semi-open woodlands. It tends to visit backyard feeders located in or near these habitat types.
Nest: Nesting pairs excavate cavities in decayed wood. They also use existing cavities excavated by woodpeckers.
Breeding season: The white-breasted nuthatch breeds in June through September.
Breeding period: The white-breasted nuthatch lays 5-9 creamy white speckled with light brown eggs. It takes approximately 39 days from egg-laying (incubation period 13 days, nestling period 26 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: The white-breasted nuthatch lives at least nine years and nine months.


WRENS

Wrens, in general, are not known as regular bird feeder visitors anywhere. However, in the State of California, the bewick’s wren is a regular visitor to backyard feeders. 

Wrens feed on insects and other small invertebrates they find in dense foliage close to the ground. They also supplement their diet with berries and seeds. The bewick’s wren is a great songster.


Bewick’s Wren

Length 5.25″ – Weight 0.35 oz

Identification: The Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) is brown on the back, wings, and cap. The tai and wings have black barring. It has a pale throat and breast that grades to grayish. Note the bold white eyebrow and slightly decurved bill. It is a great songster.
Food: Attract Bewick’s Wrens with mealworms, suet, hulled sunflower seeds, and peanuts.
Feeder: It favors large or small hopper feeders, tube feeders, suet cages, and the ground.
Presence: Bewick’s wrens are year-round residents in Coastal California.
Behavior: It is often shy at feeders and does not stay out of dense vegetation for long periods of time. Submissive to most other birds.
Backyard: Bewick’s wrens favor dense vegetation, tangled understory, or brush piles that they use to approach bird feeders and return for cover.
Nest: The Bewick’s Wren builds a bulky oven-shaped nest with a side entrance. The nest is placed in broken-off stumps and limbs 3-6 feet above the ground. It also nests in hanging planters and hanging decorations on porches.
Breeding season: Bewick’s wrens breed in late Mid-April through Mid-August.
Breeding period: Bewick’s Wrens lay 3-7 creamy-white eggs with brown to reddish-brown spots. It takes about 30 days from egg-laying (incubation period 15 days, nestling period 15 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Bewick’s wrens live at least 8 years.


WARBLERS

Warblers generally do not visit bird feeders. Most warblers in North America feed on insects and other small invertebrates, but some include fruit, nectar, and small seeds during the winter or non-breeding season. The yellow-rump warbler is a year-round resident in California. 


Yellow-rumped Warbler

Length 5.1″, Weight 0.43 oz

Identification: The yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata) in winter plumage is grayish-brown with blackish streaks. The throat is whitish. The rump and sides of the breast and belly are yellow. It has two distinctive white wing bars.
Food: Attract yellow-rumped warbler with hulled sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, peanut hearts, nectar, fruit, and mealworms.
Feeder: It favors large and small tube feeders, suet cages, large and small hopper feeders, fruit and nectar feeders.
Presence: Yellow-rumped warblers are present throughout the year in California. They can be expected at backyard bird feeders any time.
Behavior: A non-aggressive visitor to feeders. It is submissive to most other birds at feeders.
Backyard: Yellow-rumped warblers favor semi-open woodland and yards where it moves about in flocks.
Nest: It builds an open cup on horizontal branches in coniferous forests 4-50 feet above the ground.
Breeding season: The yellow-rumped warbler breeds in mid-May through late August.
Breeding period: Yellow-rumped warblers lay 1-6 whitish eggs speckled with reddish-brown. It takes about 25 days from egg-laying (incubation period 12 days, nestling period 12 days) until fledging.
Lifespan: Yellow-rumped warblers live at least 10 years.


What type of bird feeder should I get to attract birds in the State of California?

The type of bird feeder to get in the State of California is a platform feeder or hopper feeder, particularly if one is starting to feed backyard birds. 

I analyzed the type of feeder most used by backyard feeder birds. The results apply to the State of California and other states as these birds have wide ranges in North America.

According to the data analyzed, most (92.5%) birds use platform feeders, followed by large hopper feeders (64.8%). Many birds (32%) are comfortable feeding on the ground.

The analysis consisted of tallying bird species by bird feeder type used. The data comes from reports from folks that feed backyard birds in the region reported to the FeederWatch Project of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. 

The table below shows the bird feeder types most frequently used by backyard birds in the State of California.

Feeder TypeNumber of Species that use itPercentage
Platform5092.5
Large Hopper3564.8
Ground3259.2
Large Tube2037.0
Suet Cage2037.0
Small Tube1527.7
Small Hopper916.6

How do I attract birds to my bird feeder in my state? 

Attracting birds to your bird feeders is as simple as putting up a feeder with food or simply spraying birdseed on the ground. Once one or two birds find the food source, other birds see them coming and going from your yard to the feeder and follow them.

It is very important to be consistent. Once you put birdseed out for the birds, they will make visiting your backyard a part of their daily routine. If food is unavailable for several days, they will drop your backyard as a reliable source of food and visit it only sporadically.

The time it takes for the birds to discover your feeders depends on the vegetation in your yard and around it. Bushes and trees attract birds, and more birds around are more likely to notice your feeders.

The bird feeder should be located in a place visible to the birds. As indicated above, I recommend spraying food on the ground and putting food on a platform feeder. If you have grass in your yard and food is unlikely to be seen by the birds, you can simply use a piece of plywood to place birdseed. 

Once you have a few birds visiting your yard, you can implement a hopper or tube feeder. You can gradually move the bird feeder to a location in your yard where you can enjoy them from your home, for instance, outside the kitchen window.

What type of food do I need to attract birds in the State of California?

My preferred food for beginners is birdseed mixes available in stores. Bird seed mixes include several seeds and grains that appeal to a wider variety of birds.

Once you get birds coming to your feeders, you can begin to offer the type of food that is more likely to attract the birds you want to see in your feeders.

Photo Credits:

The photographic material used in this guide was made available on various websites. Many thanks to Andrew Morffew, Mark Mochell, Elizabeth Milson, Duzan Brinkhuizen, Matt Weller, Troy Anderson, Dennis Church, Wendy Miller, Rick From Alabama, Carlos Sanchez, John Benson, Mick Thompson, Steve Guttman, Victor Espinoza, Kelly Colgan-Azar, Andy Reago, Chrissy McLaren, Garry C., Michael Janke, Cuatro77, Linda Fortuna, Vicky DeLoach, Paul Hurtado, Tom Murray, Tom Wilberding, Patricia Pierce, Kenneth Cole-Schneider, Doug Greenberg, Brian Garrett, David White, Victoria Pickering, Becky Matsubara, Dan Mooney, and Julio Mulero.

Voices:

Most recordings were made by Paul Marvin (Xeno-canto https://xeno-canto.org/contributor/RFTXRYBVBX)

References and Sources:

  • eBird. (https://ebird.org/)
  • Project Feederwatch (https://feederwatch.org/)
  • Sibley, David, 2000, The Sibley Guide to Birds.
  • Species Longevity Data: United States Geological Survey (https://www.usgs.gov/)
  • Wikipedia. (https://www.wikipedia.org/)

Final thoughts:

The Guide to backyard feeder birds of the State of California is largely based on the concept of citizen science. Most of the information in this article comes from citizen reports.

This identification guide covers common birds that visit backyard feeders in the State of California.

1 thought on “California Backyard Feeder Birds: The Definitive Guide”

  1. Love the way you have picked out the very birds that come to bird feeders in Cali.

    I am a long time backyard bird feeder and seeing Oak Titmouse, Golden-crowned Sparrow, California Scrub-jay on your list tells me that you know your trade!
    I like your blog and your expertise.

    Jason.

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