Birds of Big Sur & the Northern Santa Lucia Mountains

A constellation of numerous factors make Big Sur and the Santa Lucias a birding paradise. Big Sur is blessed with incredible bio-diversity and topographical variation. Bring together the dramatic meeting of land and sea; an overlap of northern and southern plant species creating an unusual diversity of habitats; that this area is on the route of migrating birds moving from north to south and back again; and thus we have an abundant variety of bird life that gives ornithologists wet dreams.

Beginning and intermediate birders can quickly become overwhelmed with 487 bird species being seen in Monterey County and 390 in Big Sur and the northern Santa Lucia's. Most of the birds on the full bird lists are not going to be seen by the casual or experienced birder. Below you will find a list of the more common birds in this area with a direct link to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology page for that species. There you will find photos, life history, listen to songs, compare similar species, and more.

brown pelicans

Here are links to resources to learning more about birds of Big Sur and the Central Coast of California:

Birding California's Central Coast: Great introduction for beginning or experienced birders new to this area

Monterey County Bird List: Advanced birders can head straight to this site. Don Roberson has put together the definitive work on birds of Monterey County here and in his book Monterey Birds, 2d ed. (2003). With 458 birds, and counting, on his personal Monterey County list Don rules the local birding scene.

Big Sur Ornithology Lab of the Ventana Wilderness Society publishes a useful small guide titled the Birds of Big Sur. If you are in the area, stop by their visitors center in Andrew Molera State Park. No matter your level of experience you will learn something new.

Bird Books:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
by Jon L. Dunn and Jonathan Alderfer
Monterey Birds by Don Roberson

Common Birds of Big Sur and the Santa Lucia Mountains*

Please note that "common" is completely relative to season, location, habitat, and more. The list below is imperfect and yet a great starting place to familiarize yourself with the birds of this area. Enjoy!

Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica
Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis
Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Brandt's Cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus
Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
California Condor Gymnogyps californianus
Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata
Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus
Sharp-shinned Hawk Accipiter striatus
Cooper's Hawk Accipiter cooperii
Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Mountain Quail Oreortyx pictus
California Quail Callipepla californica
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephalus
Heermann's Gull Larus heermanni
Mew Gull Larus canus
California Gull Larus californicus
Western Gull Larus occidentalis
Elegant Tern Sterna elegans
Common Murre Uria aalge
Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba
Band-tailed Pigeon Patagioenas fasciata
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Barn Owl Tyto alba
Western Screech-Owl Megascops kennicottii
Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus
Northern Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium gnoma
Northern Saw-whet Owl Aegolius acadicus
White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
Anna's Hummingbird Calypte anna
Allen's Hummingbird Selasphorus sasin
Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus
Nuttall's Woodpecker Picoides nuttallii
Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens
Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Olive-sided Flycatcher Contopus cooperi
Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus
Pacific-slope Flycatcher Empidonax difficilis
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans
Cassin's Vireo Vireo cassinii
Hutton's Vireo Vireo huttoni
Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus
Steller's Jay Cyanocitta stelleri
Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica
American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor
Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina
Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Chestnut-backed Chickadee Poecile rufescens
Plain Titmouse Baeolophus inornatus
Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus
White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis
Pygmy Nuthatch Sitta pygmaea
Brown Creeper Certhia americana
Bewick's Wren Thryomanes bewickii
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana
Swainson's Thrush Catharus ustulatus
Hermit Thrush Catharus guttatus
American Robin Turdus migratorius
Wrentit Chamaea fasciata
California Thrasher Toxostoma redivivum
Eurasian Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Black-throated Gray Warbler Dendroica nigrescens
Townsend's Warbler Dendroica townsendi
Wilson's Warbler Wilsonia pusilla
Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus
California Towhee Pipilo crissalis
Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps
Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus
Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca
Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys
Golden-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla
Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Black-headed Grosbeak Pheucticus melanocephalus
Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
Brewer's Blackbird Euphagus cyanocephalus
Purple Finch Carpodacus purpureus
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
Pine Siskin Carduelis pinus
Lesser Goldfinch Carduelis psaltria
American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis

* The following evolving list was created by me with the generous help of Craig Hohenberger, founder of the Big Sur Ornithology Lab, past President of Monterey Peninsula Audubon Society, and founder of the MEarth Habitat at the Carmel Middle School.