Many birds call the unique vegetation of Southern California home, but it is those with a flash of yellow that often catch the eye. Here’s a quick guide to help hikers and other casual observers identify one yellow bird from another.
Look for this bird especially in the spring and fall. It has a yellow belly and breast and an olive-colored back and wings. The long tail, yellow face and black cap make this small (less than five inches) Southern California bird easy to identify.
About the same size as the Wilson’s warbler, this bird is most commonly seen in the summer in Orange County. Its yellow belly and chest are not as bright at the Wilson’s warbler, and its back is more olive-brown in color. Look for the distinctive white eye ring, orange lower bill and long tail.
The yellow warbler is the same size as the Wilson’s warbler, but it does not have the black cap and is more yellow overall. Look for red streaks on black wings and yellow in the tail. Expect to see the yellow warbler in the spring and summer in Southern California.
This small bird (to five inches) can be seen year-round in Orange County. The bright yellow breast of this bird is similar to the Wilson’s warbler, but the back of this bird is darker with a larger black cap. Look for white accents on the dark wings.
Like the lesser goldfinch, this bird is bright yellow overall except for a black cap and black wings with white edges. The American goldfish is roughly the same size as the lesser goldfinch and may be seen year round throughout much of Southern California.
This bird may be larger (to six inches) than the lesser goldfinch and the American goldfinch. While it also has a yellow breast, its back is gray, and its wings are yellow with some black accents. Instead of a black cap, the Lawrence goldfinch has a black face. This bird may be seen year-round in Southern California
This bird is more black than yellow, but it does have a distinctive yellow cap and throat. Look also for yellow side patches. Up to six inches, the black breast makes this warbler unique. Expect to see it any season except summer.
This bird’s red head (which may be mixed with yellow) is quite distinctive. To seven inches, the western tanager may be present any season except winter. It has a yellow breast, yellow wing bars and a black tail.
The cedar waxwing is a gray to light brown bird with a pale yellow belly. It also has a distinctive yellow tail band. Look for a pointed brown crest and black markings around the eyes. The cedar waxwing (so named for the “waxy” tips on its secondary flight feathers) may be present any season other than summer.
This larger bird (to eight inches) is often seen in the spring and summer throughout Southern California. It has a yellow belly, gray head and black wings and tail. Look for a distinctive white band along the outer margin of the tail.
This bird has a yellow “hood” (hence the name), a yellow belly and a black throat. Its wings are a dark gray to black color with yellow accents. Growing to eight inches, it has a distinctive curved bill and is most frequently seen in the spring and summer.
This bright, yellow-breasted, larger bird (to nine inches) has a distinctive yellow throat. Look for a black band separating the yellow on its throat from its yellow breast. Also note the black spotting over white on its sides and the white bands on the sides of its tail. This bird is usually present year round in Orange County.
A good guidebook such as Sibley’s (The Sibley Guide to Birds) will provide more information about each species, as well as pictures to aid in identification.