Spring Birds in the Redwood Forests

Spring migration brings many opportunities to spot some of the coolest birds of the coast redwood and giant sequoia forests. Keep an eye out for some of our favorites below—in your backyard, on your neighborhood walks, or in the forests if you’re lucky enough to have access to them.

For a more in-depth guide, download our free Birdwatcher’s Guide to Redwood Forests.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed chickadee. Photo by Doug Greenberg, Flickr Creative Commons.
Chestnut-backed chickadee. Photo by Doug Greenberg, Flickr Creative Commons.

While this little bird loves lush coastal coniferous forests and oak woodlands along streams, you might encounter a nesting pair in its range from Alaska to central California. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I have a pair nesting in a woodpecker hole on the exterior of my house—they literally are living in my wall right now. Cute and fun fact: These little chickadees build their nests with rabbit, coyote, and deer fur.

 

Steller’s Jay

Steller's Jay. Photo by Linda Tanner, Flickr Creative Commons.
Steller’s Jay. Photo by Linda Tanner, Flickr Creative Commons.

This large crested jay is often seen flying solo or in small flocks throughout coastal forests. It’s hard to miss with dark blue plumage shaded with black or black-brown on the head, neck, and lower back. Its loud call is as striking as its looks, often sounding like shook shook shook shook. Like their clever corvid kin (such as crows and scrub jays) Steller’s jays can be bold in the face of the two-legged (humans). Check out this video of one unperturbed by my gaze in Big Sur.

 

Great Gray Owl

Great gray owl. Photo by Max Forster.
Great gray owl. Photo by Max Forster.

The chances of spotting a great gray owl in the giant sequoia groves are slim, but not impossible. They might be seen on perches along meadow edges, where they often hunt for rodents. Perhaps the best way to see a great gray owl is to listen for its repetitive, booming whoo. Listed as a California State Endangered Species, there are only about 300 individuals in California, most of which are in Yosemite. A few years ago, our friends on the North Coast had an unlikely sighting: a visiting great gray owl, from a northern population, in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

 

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker. Photo by Mark Moschell, Flickr Creative Commons.
Pileated woodpecker. Photo by Mark Moschell, Flickr Creative Commons.

At home in ancient coast redwood and other mature forests, the large pileated woodpecker has a dramatic red crest, a staccato, hammer-like pecking that can usually be heard from afar, and a very distinctive call that consists of a cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk that rises and falls in pitch.

 

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous hummingbird. Photo by Peter Pearsall, USFWS.
Rufous hummingbird. Photo by Peter Pearsall, USFWS.

The rufous hummingbird can be seen migrating through the ancient coast redwood forest and throughout California in spring. Males are a vivid rusty color on the back and belly, with a red throat. Females and immature birds have greenish gray heads and backs, and rusty sides. Their fiery hues are fitting—they are notoriously fierce when chasing off other hummingbird species.

 

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain chickadee. Photo by Dave Menke, USFWS.
Mountain chickadee. Photo by Dave Menke, USFWS.

This little bird favors coniferous forests of the Western Sierra Nevada. It has a black cap, throat, and eye patch; a white cheek, eyebrow, and belly; and a gray back and flanks. Its call is a chick-a-dee, often repeating dee.

 

Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto, Flickr Creative Commons
Northern Spotted Owl. Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto, Flickr Creative Commons.

The spotted owl is well adapted for old-growth forests. They need large forests with dense canopies, as well as varied vegetation in which to hunt woodrats and flying squirrels. Spotted owls also nest in tree cavities, and they are hesitant to cross clear-cuts or other disturbed areas. These biological needs led to its listing under the US Endangered Species Act, changing logging practices across much of the Pacific Northwest and California. Current threats include habitat fragmentation and the intrusion of the barred owl, a related species that is larger, more aggressive, and more adaptable. Spotted owls are dark brown with white spots on the head and back. Their round heads feature brown facial disks and pale markings that form an “X” between the eyes. The breast has white horizontal bars. (Barred owls, which look similar, are somewhat larger and have dark vertical streaks on the belly plumage.)

 

Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed pigeon. Photo by Gary Kramer, USFWS.
Band-tailed pigeon. Photo by Gary Kramer, USFWS.

California’s only native pigeon is the band-tailed pigeon, which is larger and far more cautious than domesticated rock doves (“city pigeons”). Found in redwood and oak forests, it is dark gray on its upper parts and pale gray on its breast, with a wide, pale band on its tail. Listen for the male’s crooning coo.

 

Western Tanager

Western Tanager. Photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Southwest Region, Flickr Creative Commons.
Western Tanager. Photo courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service, Pacific Southwest Region, Flickr Creative Commons.

At home in coniferous forests, the western tanager is one of the most eye-catching songbirds. The male has an orange-red head, a bright yellow breast and belly, and black wings with white wing bars. The female is also lovely, but more subdued in color, with a yellow belly and breast and gray-black dorsal plumage. Their song is a series of high and low notes, sounding like quick questions.

 

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted nuthatch. Photo by David Brenzinski, USFWS.
White-breasted nuthatch. Photo by David Brenzinski, USFWS.

This small, short-tailed bird lives in ancient redwood and other coniferous and deciduous forests. It creeps down trunks foraging for insects and seeds. You’ll also know it by its white face and breast, its gray-blue back, and its endearing, nasal wha-wha-wha call.

 

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated gray warbler. Photo by Matt "Smooth-Tooth" Knoth.
Black-throated gray warbler. Photo by Matt “Smooth-Tooth” Knoth, Flickr Creative Commons.

This migratory bird is currently breezing through brushy openings in coniferous forests and mixed woodlands. Their camouflage—a black-and-white striped head and flanks, a white breast, a black-striped gray back, and white wing bars—can make them difficult to find, but they’re well worth the effort. The yellow spot in front of the eye is the giveaway. Its vocalizations consist of a rising and falling zee zee zee zee bzz bzz or a subdued tup.


Tags: , , , ,


About Dana Poblete

Avatar

Dana Poblete joined Save the Redwoods League in 2019 as writer/storyteller and editor. She has written sustainable lifestyle and travel features, environmental advocacy pieces, and content and copy for print magazines, nonprofits, and mission-driven brands.


How to make redwood cookies

on

Learn how you can take advantage of the spring’s new redwood needles to flavor delicious shortbread cookies. C’mon, set aside your sourdough starter and give it a try.

Video: Experience the Giant Sequoia

on

Before you go sprinting into another crazy day, take a moment to experience the giant sequoia. Follow along on with us on a relaxing tour of a giant sequoia forest, in this new addition to our Redwoods Recharge collection of calming videos.


5 Responses to “Spring Birds in the Redwood Forests”

  1. Avatar

    Doris Illes

    I enjoy my spare time watching bird and hummingbird antics from the 4 feeders on my porch. Their beauty reminds us of the glories of Nature and give us hope for a better tomorrow. The redwoods promote peace, tranquility and refuge from our chaotic world. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Deb

    Amazing photos and descriptions of these gorgeous birds. They make the Redwoods all the more endearing. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Paula

    Awesome pictures….we have some of these here in WV….

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    Lucy-Nadya

    Thanks for all of the beautiful pictures. Many of the birds, especially the chickadees, are favorites of mine. I am lucky to have two mountain chickadees that come to the railing of my deck to gather sunflower seeds. It is such a pleasure to see them flit in and out quickly each time they take a seed!

    Reply
  5. Avatar

    Carolyn Riddle

    Thanks for the beautiful bird pictures. It means a lot since I can’t actually go birding right now. God bless!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Join our newsletter

Get the latest redwood updates in your inbox
   Please leave this field empty