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NHMLAC Birding Guide

A brief guide to backyard birds around Los Angeles in the spring.

2020 Nature Fest illustration

Welcome to your NHMLAC Birding Guide!

The following guide will help you identify the common species of birds that you are likely to encounter while observing wildlife in the L.A. area.

  1. Discover Wildlife
    Help us investigate the incredible nature all around L.A.— in backyards, schools, and in neighborhoods, and discover the wildlife all around you.
  2. Record What You See
    Snap a photo of the animals, plants, and fungi you find, and when and where you found them. The more detailed the observation, the better!
  3. Share What You Find
    Submit your observations to iNaturalist, available on the App store for OS or Android.
    For help using iNaturalist:
    Consult the tutorial in the iNaturalist app
    Visit the Help section at iNaturalist.org
    E-mail us at nature@nhm.org or call us at 213.763.3272

 

hooded oriole

Hooded Oriole

Icterus cucullatus

There is hardly a better sign of the return of spring in the Los Angeles area than the arrival in March of these colorful visitors.

Appearance

Adult males are boldly colored in deep yellow and black (see image above), females are more uniformly greenish-yellow; one-year-old males resemble females but have a black throat.

Habitat

Their woven nest is almost always built in palm trees, suspended from the underside of a frond.

Notes

These orioles feed mainly on nectar and insects, and will often visit sugar-water feeders.

 

 

bushtit

Bushtit

Psaltriparus minimus

Our smallest songbirds, Bushtits travel in twittering flocks, moving among trees and shrubs gleaning stems and leaves for small insects.

Appearance

If you can get a close look, you can tell the white-eyed females from the dark-eyed males.

Habitat

The Bushtit nest is distinctive—a 10-inch-long hanging pouch made of soft fibers, down and spider webs, with a small entrance near the top. Bushtits are common year-round residents in urban Los Angeles.

Notes

Bushtits are the only New World representatives of a small family otherwise found only from Europe to Southeast Asia.

 

 

allens hummingbird

Allenʼs Hummingbird

Selasphorus sasin

This rufous and green jewel is now the most common hummingbird in most gardens around Los Angeles, though a few decades back it was restricted to the Channel Islands and Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Notes

Our abundant exotic plantings have allowed it to spread and, along with the slightly larger Anna’s Hummingbird, it is a familiar sight year round. Watch carefully for other hummingbird species that may pass through in spring: Rufous, Black-chinned, and Costa’s.

 

 

coopers hawk

Cooperʼs Hawk

Accipiter cooperii

While many birds of prey have declined with expanding urbanization, the Cooper’s Hawk is an increasingly common sight around Los Angeles.

Appearance

Like most raptors, the females are larger and heavier than the males.

Notes

These are bird-hunting hawks, often making the rounds around our feeders or other places where sparrows, finches, doves, and other birds might congregate.

 

 

house finch

House Finch

Haemorhous mexicanus

One of the most familiar urban birds of Los Angeles, the House Finch is common and confiding, often nesting in porches and backyard trees and structures.

Appearance

The feather color of males may vary from deep red to orange or even yellow (the color comes from carotenoid, organic pigments, found in their food). The streaky brown females lack these colors.

Notes

House Finches are susceptible to mycoplasma infections, often appearing as swollen or weepy eyes; dirty feeders aid the spread of this disease, so it is always important to keep seed feeders and birdbaths clean. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has used citizen scientists to track the occurence of mycoplasma infections in House Finches in North America and NHM Ornithology Curator, Allison Shultz, has conducted years of research on the populations’ genetic response to exposure to this disease.

 

 

western tanager

Western Tanager

Piranga ludoviciana

Many migratory birds pass through the Los Angeles area from March through May on their way to more northerly breeding grounds. Various warblers, flycatchers, vireos, buntings and other songbirds can sometimes be seen in good numbers in our gardens and parks.

Appearance

One of the most striking songbirds moving through the Los Angeles area is the Western Tanager—the yellow, red and black male is unmistakable.

Habitat

These birds breed commonly from southeast Alaska through the mountains of western Canada and the U.S., including our local mountains.

Notes

Despite their name, these tanagers and their close relatives are in the cardinal (Cardinalidae) family rather than the true tanagers of the family Thraupidae that are nearly restricted to the Neotropics.

 

 

house sparrow

House Sparrow

Passer domesticus

This is the quintessential urban sparrow, scrappily grabbing bits of fallen food at outdoor eateries and sometimes even living full time inside some of our large warehouse stores.

Habitat

Introduced into North America in the late 1800s, these human commensals were common in California by 1900.

Notes

Despite their adaptability in our urban areas, House Sparrows have been shown to be declining in many areas, particularly in their native European range, perhaps, in part, to the increased industrialization of agriculture.

 

 

black phoebe

Black Phoebe

Sayornis nigricans

Urban Los Angeles provides the resources that this familiar insect-eater needs: abundant insect prey on or near the ground, mud (because of our irrigation) that is used in nest-building, and shelter (eaves, building ledges, bridges, culverts) that provide an overhang for the nest. As a result, few urban neighborhoods lack this species.

Appearance

The Black Phoebe is easily told by its blackish plumage (contrasting with a white belly), peaked head shape, and habit of constantly dipping its tail when perched.

 

 

american crow

American Crow

Corvus brachyrhynchos

 

common raven
"Crows and ravens (Common Raven pictured above) were uncommon sights here 75 years ago (averaging a combined 2.6 individuals a year!), but American Crows and Common Ravens are now ubiquitous, with an average of over a thousand individuals on the last five counts." Kimball Garrett

Common Raven

Corvus corax

Crows are quintessential generalists, able to adapt to changing environments and exploiting a broad range of foods. Common Ravens have also increased around urban L.A., taking advantage of building ledges, power poles, and other structures for nest sites.

Appearance

Ravens are best told from crows by their larger size, heavier bills, wedge-shaped (rather than squared) tails, longer wings, and deeper voice. Unlike crows, ravens spend time soaring in the air.

Habitat

Despite a dip in crow numbers after the peak of the West Nile Virus outbreaks several years ago, crow numbers are generally far higher in urban southern California than they were decades ago. The abundant trees we have planted provide nesting and roosting sites, and fruit trees, outdoor pet food, garbage, small vertebrate prey and many other offerings keep them well fed.