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19 Yellow Birds in California

yellow birds in california
Western Tanager in Tehama, California: Photo by Ian Davies

Introduction

California provides crucial breeding and migration stopover habitat for a variety of bright yellow birds. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most notable yellow-plumaged bird species that can be found throughout the state in habitats ranging from woodlands to wetlands. 

Yellow Birds in California

Pacific-slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis)

  • Features: Small olive-yellow flycatcher with two distinct wingbars. Eye ring and lores are often yellowish. Song is a “pip-zeeep” call. 
  • Locations: Summers in forests across northern California. Winters in Central America.
  • Fun Fact: Builds an open cup nest in trees, often on horizontal branches.

Cassin’s Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans

  • Features: Gray flycatcher with lemon yellow belly and white throat/breast. White outer tail feathers visible in flight. Makes chattering and whistling vocalizations.
  • Locations: Summers in open woodlands across southern California. Winters in Mexico.  
  • Fun Fact: Aggressive and noisy, they chase after hawks and crows that enter their territory.

Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)

  • Features: Gray flycatcher with bright yellow belly and throat, white tail edges. Upright posture. Makes scratchy twittering calls.
  • Locations: Found in summer across much of California in open habitats. Winters in tropical Americas.
  • Fun Fact: Forages by catching insects in mid-air in aerial sallies from a perch.

Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni

  • Features: Small songbird with gray back, yellow-olive flanks, and pale yellow belly. White spectacles around eyes. Sings a varied, burry song.
  • Locations: Year-round resident in oak woodlands across California.
  • Fun Fact: Males and females cooperate to build elaborate hanging nests on branches. 

Cassin’s Vireo (Vireo cassinii)

  • Features: A small vireo with yellow-green back and white belly. Gray cap and white eye-ring. Sings a repetitive song with burry phrases. 
  • Locations: Summers in northern California’s oak woodlands. Winters in Mexico. 
  • Fun Fact: Male and female both incubate the eggs and feed nestlings.

Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)

  • Features: Tiny songbird with olive-gray and yellow plumage. Males have brilliant orange and yellow crown stripe. High-pitched buzzy call.
  • Locations: Found year-round in coniferous forests across California. 
  • Fun Fact: Builds an elaborately woven hanging nest decorated with lichens and spider silk.

Lesser Goldfinch (Spinus psaltria)

  • Features: Tiny bright yellow finch with black cap, wings, and tail. White wing bars. Thin pointed bill adapted for eating seeds. Musical warbling call. 
  • Locations: Common resident across California in weedy fields, urban areas, and woodland edges. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests later than other songbirds, with peak breeding in July and August. 

Lawrence’s Goldfinch (Spinus lawrencei

  • Features: Bright yellow finch with gray back, black wings, white rump. Long pointed bill. Melodious vocalizations. 
  • Locations: Localized resident of chaparral and oak savannas in southern California.
  • Fun Fact: Adapted to hot, arid climate. Drinks sap from cacti and nests early before summer heat.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

  • Features: Small seed-eating finch with bright yellow body and black cap, wings, and tail. Long conical bill. Distinctive flight pattern.
  • Locations: Widespread across North America. A year-round resident in California. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds later in summer than other birds. Male’s bill turns orange in breeding season.

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta

  • Features: Medium-sized songbird with yellow underparts and black “V” on breast. Long pointed bill. Flute-clear song. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in open grasslands and fields across California.
  • Fun Fact: Sings engraved flutelike song from high perches to mark its breeding territory. 

Orange-crowned Warbler (Leiothlypis celata)

  • Features: Gray warbler with olive back and faint orange crown stripe. Bright yellow underparts. Forages actively in shrubs and trees.
  • Locations: Abundant migrant and winter resident across California. Summers farther north.
  • Fun Fact: Has a simple, repeating song. Tends to skulk and stay hidden in vegetation.

Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

  • Features: Small warbler with gray head and back and bright yellow underparts. Males have chestnut crown patch.
  • Locations: Common migrant in spring and fall across California. Winters in Mexico. 
  • Fun Fact: Hawks small insects while foraging in shrubs and trees. Has a buzzy, insect-like breeding song.

MacGillivray’s Warbler (Geothlypis tolmiei

  • Features: Yellow underparts with gray head and back. Broken eye ring. Males have black caps. Loud, ringing “tchip” call. 
  • Locations: Summers in northern California, migrates through southern California.
  • Fun Fact: Forages along branches and in dense understory for insects. Named after Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

  • Features: Male has black face mask with bright yellow throat and breast. Yellow eyebrows. Loud “witchity” song.
  • Locations: Found year-round in marshy areas with dense vegetation across California.
  • Fun Fact: Builds cup nest hidden in low branches over water. Male performs flight display to attract mates.

American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga aestiva

  • Features: Male is bright yellow with chestnut streaking. Yellow-olive back and wings. Sweet whistled song. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across northern California. Winters in Mexico and tropics.
  • Fun Fact: Forages for insects in trees and bushes. Gleans caterpillars from rolled leaves. 

Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)

  • Features: Yellow face with black cheek patches. Yellow throat and breast with olive-green back. White wing bars. 
  • Locations: Migrates through California’s coastal forests. Breeds in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Fun Fact: Forages for insects in pine branches and needles. Has a rapid, rattling song.

Hermit Warbler (Setophaga occidentalis

  • Features: Gray back with bright yellow head, rump, and underparts. Black throat and cheek patches with white eye crescents. 
  • Locations: Summer resident in northern California’s coniferous forests. Winters in Mexico.
  • Fun Fact: Nest is an open cup placed high in a conifer tree on a horizontal branch.

Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla)

  • Features: Small warbler with olive-green upperparts and bright yellow face and underparts. Males have black caps.
  • Locations: Abundant migrant across California. Summers in far north and Canada. 
  • Fun Fact: Has loud, ringing song. Forages actively in dense, shrubby habitat along the ground.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

  • Features: Medium-sized songbird with bright red head, neck and breast contrasting yellow body and black back/wings.
  • Locations: Summer resident in California’s coniferous forests. Winters in Mexico. 
  • Fun Fact: Breeds high in tall conifer trees. Male has a hoarse, burry song.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss is a major threat, as many yellow birds require specialized forest, marsh, or shrubland breeding habitats. Climate change may disrupt migration and breeding timing. Predation by cats and collisions with buildings take a toll. Conserving habitats can help protect populations.

Citizen Science and eBird  

Recording sightings on eBird helps scientists track migration timing and range changes. Yellow birds can be hard to spot, so sharing sightings aids research. Taking part in breeding bird surveys informs vital conservation efforts.

Conclusion

California’s diverse yellow birds migrate huge distances and occupy specialized niches. Seek them out as they forage actively in thickets, forest canopies, and over wetlands. Note their songs and behaviors. Your sightings and actions can help conserve these bright yellow avian jewels.