Many raptors live in California, including different species of eagles, hawks, owls, and vultures. If you get to know where these species live in California, you’ll know where to go to spot them.
Raptor birds you can spot in California include:
- Bald Eagle
- Golden Eagle
- White-Tailed Kite
- California Condor
- Peregrine Falcon
- Northern Goshawk
- Northern Harrier
- California Spotted Owl
- Short-Eared Owl
- Long-Eared Owl
- Burrowing Owl
- Swainson’s Hawk
- Northern Spotted Owl
- Sharp-Shinned Hawk
- Ferruginous Hawk
- Prairie Falcon
- Red-Tailed Hawk
- Barn Owl
- Great-Horned Owl
- Barred Owl
- Turkey Vulture
Many raptors live in California, and spotting them can be quite exhilarating. What these birds have in common is a set of sharp talons, a hooked beak, and a meat-based diet.
Raptors are natural hunters, and if you’re lucky, you might witness a raptor swooping and diving to catch its next meal.
Bald eagles can be found in California near lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and coastal wetlands.
While they’re most commonly found in northern California, you can also find Bald Eagles in central and southern California within the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Bald Eagles are protected in the state of California due to environmental threats.
Most Golden Eagles live in California year-round, but some migrate to the state in the wintertime.
They live in forests, grasslands, shrublands, and canyons, and they nest in large trees or along steep cliffs.
Golden Eagles have a protected status in the state due to threats to their nesting habitat and other environmental stressors.
The White-Tailed Kite prefers to live near open areas where they can hunt small mammals, including grasslands, open woodlands, fields, marshes, and savannas.
They share the same protected status as the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle in California.
The California Condor lives in the mountains, nesting in cliff caves or the trunks of large trees.
They used to live across California, but in recent history, their range has decreased in size due to humans hunting them. They now live only in southern California.
The Peregrine Falcon used to be endangered in California and is now a protected species.
It has a wide range and is found in all parts of the state: wetlands, deserts, islands, forests, and even urban areas. They nest along cliffs and in tall, uninhabited buildings and on bridges.
The Northern Goshawk lives in the northern and central parts of California and is considered a species of special concern in the state due to environmental threats.
They’re found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Kings Canyon National Park, as well as Whitaker’s Forest.
Northern Harriers are found from northern Alaska to Baja California, and they are most numerous in plains, prairies, and other flatlands.
Some Northern Harriers live in California year-round, while others migrate there in the wintertime.
The Northern Harrier is a species of special concern in California due to environmental threats.
California Spotted Owl
California Spotted Owls live in the old-growth forest of the Sierra Nevadas, a habitat that has decreased in size over the last hundred years.
They live at every elevation from sea level to high up in the mountains, and they are now protected in California.
The Short-Eared Owl lives at high elevations and then retreats downward during the wintertime.
Although they’ve seen declines in population sizes in urban spaces in the last hundred years, they live across all regions of the state.
The Short-Eared Owl is considered a species of special concern in the state of California.
Long-Eared Owls have a large range across the entire state of California, from sea level to elevations of up to 10,000 feet in the White Mountains.
They’re considered a species of special concern in California, which means they aren’t endangered, but they do have threats to their population numbers.
The Burrowing Owl lives primarily in grasslands, where it can roost in short vegetation and burrows.
It flourishes in agricultural areas due to the availability of grasslands, and so population numbers have grown in recent history due to the expansion of agricultural areas.
Burrowing Owls also live in the Mojave Desert and along the coastline.
The population of Swainson’s Hawks in California has decreased significantly in recent history.
Still, they remain in the Central Valley and Great Basin of northeast California and the Shasta Valley, the Mojave Desert, and the Owens Valley.
Northern Spotted Owl
The Northern Spotted Owl can be found throughout northern California, as well as along the coastline.
The southeastern edge of the Northern Spotted Owl’s range reaches the Pit River area of Shasta County in California.
These owls are considered threatened according to the California Endangered Species Act.
Sharp-Shinned Hawks are forest birds, and they can be found hunting small birds and mammals along the edge of the woods.
They can also be seen finding prey at backyard bird feeders.
If you hear sharp, high-pitched calls from songbirds, it’s a sign that a Sharp-Shinned Hawk or other similar raptors may be nearby.
Ferruginous Hawks live in open spaces, including grasslands, sagebrush steppe, scrubland, and the edges of juniper woodlands.
These hawks are larger than Swainson’s Hawks but smaller than a Golden Eagle, and they are common across California.
Ospreys live near shorelines and waterways, where they prey on live fish.
They live in every region across California, and the populations grow in Southern California, as Ospreys migrate from other regions of the country.
Merlins live in conifer woodlands, prairie groves, marshes, open country, and foothills. They use open areas for hunting and forested areas for nesting.
Merlins are very common in California and can even be found in urban and suburban areas.
Prairie Falcons are found in arid areas, including plains, deserts, and prairies.
They can also be found above the treeline in the mountains, and they’ll find their way to farms, lakes, and reservoirs in the wintertime.
They tend to avoid heavily forested areas and coastlines.
Red-Tailed Hawks can be found across California in open areas. You’ll find a Red-Tailed Hawk soaring over fields or perched on trees, fence posts, and telephone poles.
Often, Red-Tailed Hawks will gravitate towards trees that stand alone in a field or along the edge of a forest.
Barn Owls live across the state of California in marshes, grasslands, and agricultural fields, where they roost in barns, silos, and tree cavities.
They can be seen hunting at night, flying low over open habitats where they can find prey like small rodents.
The Great-Horned Owl is found in many places across the country, but its color varies between regions.
In Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, these owls tend to be dark-colored and sooty, and in the Southwest, they tend to be more pale and gray.
Barred Owls used to live on the eastern side of the United States, but their range shifted over time, and they were first spotted in California in 1976.
Since then, the number of Barred Owls in the state has greatly increased. They can now be found throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Turkey Vultures live in open areas like roadsides and farm fields and are often found near food sources like trash heaps and landfills.
They can also be found roosting on poles, dead trees, and fence posts, both at night and all day during colder weather.