10 Popular Black and White Birds in California (Ultimate Guide + Pictures)

If you’re visiting or live in California, it probably won’t be long before you spot a new black and white bird. The Golden State has a rich and varied landscape that extends from mountains and beaches to deserts, waterfalls, river valleys, and even beds of volcanic lava that offer natural habitats to a diverse variety of black and white birds. 

Some of the fascinating black and white birds seen in California range from woodpeckers and warblers to gulls, lark buntings, western grebes, and more interesting species.

Black and White Birds in California

Here is our identification guide for the top 10 popular black and white birds in California.

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1. Black-and-White Warbler

  • Scientific name: Mniotilta varia
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Habitat: Mixed old and young woods
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Size: 5 inches
  • Weight: 0.5 ounce
  • Wingspan: 8 inches

A Black-and-White Warbler’s cheerful black and white horizontal stripes give it a distinctive upside-down zebra look that makes it easy to identify. You can also check for their black eyebrows and white bars across the wings. These songbirds are often seen in the state during breeding season in forests where they forage in trees and leaf litter on the ground for insects.

2. Black-Capped Chickadee

  • Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus
  • Diet: Insectivore, invertivore, and frugivore
  • Habitat: Deciduous and evergreen trees
  • Lifespan: 3 years
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Weight: 4 ounces
  • Wingspan: 8 inches

You don’t have to look far in California for a Black-Capped Chickadee. In fact, this chubby bird is probably picking up bugs, berries, or seeds just outside in the yard or at the park. Look for its puffy white belly and cheeks, sleek dark wings and back, and a head with a crisp black cap.

3. Black-Billed Magpie

Black-Billed Magpie

  • Scientific name: Pica hudsonia
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Fields, backyards, and roadsides
  • Lifespan: 3 years
  • Size: 18 inches
  • Weight: 6 ounces
  • Wingspan: 22 inches

If you hear a giant black bird with a raspy voice or a harsh, chattering call that rises in the air, you’ve probably spotted the Black-Billed Magpie.

It has a thick black beak, a bright white belly, black wings with an iridescent blue sheen, and wings tipped with startling white feathers. When this bird flies, its tail splits like open scissors in a way that should help you identify it if there’s any doubt.

Magpies can hunt alone while flying or sitting on a fence post, but they often gather in large flocks in the winter to attack backyard feeders.

4. Black Phoebe

  • Scientific name: Sayornis nigricans
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Habitat: Farms, canyon walls, and semi-open woods near shaded water
  • Lifespan: 8 years
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Weight: 0.8 ounce
  • Wingspan: 11 inches 

This small black and white bird has a black head, a straight sharp beak, a white belly and tail underside, and black wings. One way to check identification is to look at the bird’s chest. White chest feathers merge into the black bib in a triangular shape where the colors meet. 

While Black Phoebes are typically seen in California during spring and summer, they winter as far south as Argentina. They are also known to come to backyard feeders filled with mealworms and sunflower seeds.

5. Common Loon

  • Scientific name: Gavia immer
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Habitat: Wetlands, ponds, and lakes
  • Lifespan: 28 years
  • Size: 28 inches
  • Weight: 10 pounds
  • Wingspan: 42 inches

A Loon has a loud, tremulous cry that can sound uncanny if you’re alone near a remote pond or swamp. A Loon has sleek black feathers, black and white checks across its back, and a smooth curve to its head that ends in a long bill shaped like a thick spear.

These birds have interesting mating behavior and submerge themselves underwater for long periods to consume a diet of fish.

6. Lark Bunting (Male)

  • Scientific name: Calamospiza melanocorys
  • Diet: Largely insectivore
  • Habitat: Open rural spaces
  • Lifespan: 4 years
  • Size: 7 inches
  • Weight: 2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 10 inches 

A male Lark Bunting is a striking black and white bird that is sometimes seen as a passage migrant in southern parts of the state. This bird has black plumage with white wings and a thick blue-black beak.

These birds are fantastic to watch when hunting insects because they can break into an impressive gallop to run down their prey. Males also put on a show-stopping mating display by shooting high into the air and bursting into song as they drop to the earth.

7. Downy Woodpecker

  • Scientific name: Dryovates pubescens
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Habitat: Yards, forests, orchards, and parks
  • Lifespan: 3 years
  • Size: 7 inches
  • Weight: 1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 11 inches

During the breeding season, you can hear the Downy Woodpecker’s whinnying song as often as you hear it pecking away at trees for insects. This bird has soft, streaky black and white feathers and wears a scarlet cap on its head.

Look for these birds in mature forests or yards and parks with large trees. They also enjoy coming to hummingbird feeders or platform feeders that have sunflower seeds or peanut butter provided.

8. California Gull

  • Scientific name: Larus californicus
  • Diet: Omnivorous carnivores
  • Habitat: Open farmland, yards, orchards, garbage dumps, fields, and scrubland
  • Lifespan: 4 to 24 years
  • Size: 18 to 22 inches
  • Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Wingspan: 48 to 54 inches

Whether spotted on the ground or in the air, the beautiful California Gull has a snow-white head and body and a dark charcoal-black back and wings. The bill is yellow and slender, curved at the end like most gulls’, and has a dark reddish patch near the tip. When a California Gull is in flight, the wings look pointed at the ends.

The good news is that you can see California Gulls flying, foraging, or sheltering on the California coast around the year. These gulls not only have an impressive lifespan, but these omnivores are found in multiple locations that span everything from beaches, farms, and orchards to fields, scrub growth, and even landfills.

9. Red-Winged Blackbird (Female)

  • Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus
  • Diet: Insectivore and herbivore
  • Habitat: Pastures, marshes, and brushlands
  • Lifespan: 2 or 3 years
  • Size: 9 inches
  • Weight: 3 ounces
  • Wingspan: 15 inches

Unlike its bold, red-winged mate, the female Red-Winged Blackbird has streaky black and white chest plumage with some grayish-white and black and brown tones on the wings and back.

Both genders often appear in large flocks and swoop down on fields or feeders to collect seeds and grain.

10. Western Grebe

  • Scientific name: Aechmophorus occidentalis
  • Diet: Aquatic carnivore
  • Habitat: Reed-filled ponds, swamps, and lakes
  • Lifespan: 10 years
  • Size: 30 inches
  • Weight: 4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 40 inches 

In winter, the Western Grebe takes shelter in freshwater lakes or along the Pacific coast in California. This elegant bird has a swan-shaped black back of the neck, back, and wings, while the entire underside, including all the way up the front of the chest and neck, is white. There is a low black crest on top of its head. It also has red eyes and a yellow dagger-shaped bill.

They enjoy more secluded ponds and wetlands with lots of thick vegetation and floating water plants where they consume fish and other aquatic life.

Final Thoughts

Discover new birds or identify the next unknown bird that catches your eye with our identification guides that cover many species of birds found in areas across the United States.

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