|Birds & Mammals
Bird Atlas Introduction
Incidental (Breeding Season)
Daily (Breeding Season)
|Breeding Bird Species Accounts
Each species known to have bred in San Diego County, plus some more or less plausible prospects, are addressed below. Use this information on the birds' basic biology to help schedule your field trips, target less obvious species, and interpret your observations. These accounts cover the breeding season only; a supplement covering winter status will be issued separately.
When possible, the account specifies the span of dates on which each species' eggs are known from San Diego County. Use these dates as a guide for what to expect when. For many species, expect to see the birds courting and building nests possibly as much as two to three weeks earlier than the first date. Expect to find chicks still in nests from two to three weeks after the first date to two to three weeks after the last date. And expect to see fledglings following their parents for a week or two after that.
For several species whose breeding range extends far to the north of us, our local breeding population arrives early in the spring and begins nesting quickly, while individuals breeding farther north arrive and pass through much later. In some of these species, migrants may still be seen on the way to their breeding range when our local birds of the same species have fledged their first brood. Conversely, in late summer, some of these northern breeders may pass us going south while the local birds are still on their territories. The species accounts try to alert you to the more complex situations. In many migratory species, seeing some nesting behavior is essential to identifying the bird as even possibly nesting in your square.
Your experience may suggest a different interpretation of the species' status than what you read here. Don't be surprised if you observe something different from what these accounts lead you to expect. If we had all the answers, there would be no point in doing this project! Just describe carefully what you observe.
Pied-billed Grebe: Widely scattered on brackish and fresh water with marshes, including fairly small ponds and river channels. Listen for courtship calls of adults and watch for downy chicks accompanying their parents. Young may disperse while still in their striped juvenile plumage, so seeing this plumage alone does not confirm nesting. Eggs 24 April - 24 June; look for chicks May - early August. Species nests occasionally at odd seasons.
Eared Grebe: Apparently nests in San Diego Co. only irregularly; no consistent sites known. Nesting possible on fresh or brackish water throughout county. Watch also for nonbreeding birds remaining through the summer; these may be the forerunners of nesting attempts. Eggs 22 April - 22 August; look for chicks May - September. Most of San Diego Co. nesting records are for late summer.Western Grebe: Nesting currently known at Buena Vista Lagoon, Lake Hodges, and Sweetwater Reservoir, but probable elsewhere on other lakes; species is spreading. Watch for floating nests, anchored to vegetation, or chicks with their parents. "Walt Disney" courtship dance of adults does not prove nesting but should be followed up. Look for chicks February - October, best June - September.
Clark's Grebe: Nesting known at same sites as Western Grebe; two species' (?!) biology virtually identical. Identify Clark's by bright orange-yellow bill, white around eye, and nearly white downy chicks; Western by greenish yellow bill, black around eye, and grayish downy chicks.
Double-crested Cormorant: Only one site currently known, on an old dredge in the salt works of south San Diego Bay. Species may establish itself elsewhere (recorded in past at Lake Henshaw). Watch for conspicuous nests in drowned trees or on structures. Nesting schedule in the salt works still undescribed.
Brandt's Cormorant: Only one traditional site, on cliffs at La Jolla, where possibly as few as two pairs nested in 1995. Site difficult to see from land, better surveyed from water. At least one pair nested recently also on an artificial structure on the San Diego Bay side of Point Loma. A complete survey by boat of nesting water birds at both La Jolla and Point Loma is needed. Nesting season prolonged, with birds beginning to build nests on 21 December in 1933 but young just fledging on 10 September in 1980.
Great Blue Heron: Currently known colonies are on the NW site of Lake Henshaw, around Sea World, on the Point Loma submarine base, and at North Island Naval Air Station, possibly still also in the San Dieguito R. valley along Via de la Valle. Scattered pairs nest sporadically elsewhere. Look for large stick nests in tall trees spattered with guano. Eggs at least 6 March - 3 April; most young fledge April - May. Most young disperse rapidly from colony after fledging.
Great Egret: One known current colony, in the Wild Animal Park at San Pasqual. Species is increasing, however, so new colonies are possible. Schedule in San Diego Co. not yet well described, but colony occupied in May.
Cattle Egret: Three current colonies known, at Buena Vista Lagoon, Guajome Lake, and the Wild Animal Park, but the atlas project could well reveal more. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not yet described, but at Finney Lake in the Imperial Valley the birds nest in midsummer, with some chicks still in the nest in early September.
Little Blue Heron: One known current nesting site, on the grounds of Sea World. Colonization of further sites quite possible (suspected at Buena Vista Lagoon; formerly in Tijuana R. valley). Nesting schedule unreported, but undoubtedly synchronized with that of the other herons with which it shares the colony.
Snowy Egret: Nesting known or likely around Buena Vista Lagoon, Lake Hodges, the Wild Animal Park, and Sea World. Sites may shift with changes in water levels (witness abandonment of colony in Tijuana R. valley and failure to nest at Buena Vista Lagoon in 1996). Nests may need protection by water. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not described but apparently in summer.
Green Heron: Unlike most herons, the Green nests solitarily--typically in riparian woodland, but not always (a recent nest in a Myoporum tree where Jimmy Durante Blvd. crosses the San Dieguito R. estuary in Del Mar). Watch for recently fledged juveniles retaining some down. Widespread at low elevations as far inland at least as San Pasqual and Lakeside. Eggs 5 May - 27 June; look for fledglings June - July. [A fledgling was noted in the Fallbrook square in April, 1997.]
Black-crowned Night Heron: Known colonies at Buena Vista Lagoon, Wild Animal Park, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Point Loma submarine base, 32nd St. navy base, and North Island Naval Air Station. Other colonies likely. Young fledge late April - June. Nests typically difficult to see in dense foliaged trees.
Least Bittern: Widely scattered in freshwater marshes, inland at least to San Pasqual and Lakeside. Notoriously difficult to see; listen for cooing calls, and scan edges of marshes for fledglings retaining wispy down. Eggs 20 May - 8 July; look for fledglings late June - August.
American Bittern: Possibly nests only sporadically here in San Diego Co., at the S limit of its breeding range. Listen for "booming" or "pumping" call in May and June. Recent sites of summering American Bitterns include Guajome Lake, San Elijo Lagoon, and Tijuana R. valley, but consider this species possible in any large marsh. Winter visitors probably all gone by end of April, but local birds apparently may begin nesting in early April. Schedule in San Diego Co. not known; species has been heard calling and seen carrying nest material, but no nests or young yet found.
White-faced Ibis: Apparently only one current nesting site, Guajome Lake, but others possible in NW San Diego Co. (recorded in 1979 at Buena Vista Lagoon). Nests typically concealed in dense marshes; watch for birds in breeding plumage (white face) carrying nest material or short-billed fledglings. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. poorly known but extends at least from April to June. Nonbreeding birds are likely to be seen widely through summer.
Wood Stork: Single pairs attempted unsuccessful nests in the Tijuana R. valley in 1987 and at the Wild Animal Park in at least 1989 and 1991.
Turkey Vulture: Widespread in foothills and mountains during breeding season but nests difficult to find in rocky, rugged chaparral. Migrants breeding to the north of us are probably absent from San Diego Co. at least in April and May, but nonbreeding individuals may remain year round. Eggs 2 March - 12 May; watch for gray-headed juveniles from April through June. Describe possible signs of nesting carefully; the atlas project has great potential to improve our knowledge of this species.
California Condor: Formerly nested but extirpated since early in 20th century.
Osprey: Nesting proven only at San Diego Bay in 1912, but quite possible again as the species increases. Seen carrying sticks at Lake Murray in 1995.
White-tailed Kite: Widespread except in Anza - Borrego Desert, but range retracting before urbanization. Nests usually well hidden in the crowns of oaks or other dense-foliaged trees. Eggs 19 February - 30 May; watch for buff-breasted fledglings April - June.
Northern Harrier: Formerly widespread in coastal lowland, but population decimated with urbanization. A few pairs remain in Camp Pendleton, around Lake Hodges, around Mother Miguel Mt./Proctor Valley, and in the Tijuana R. valley. Probably a few more persist elsewhere. The atlas project could prove critical in documenting this species' nesting habitat. Nests on ground difficult to find; watch for adults in aerial display, dropping prey to each other, or calling. Winter visitors gone from San Diego Co. May - July. Eggs 5 April - 11 May; watch for fledglings June - July.
Cooper's Hawk: Widely but sparsely distributed except in Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests typically in oaks, also in willows and, perhaps increasingly, in eucalyptus. Watch for (and beware of!) aggressive behavior near nest. Winter visitors gone from San Diego Co. May - August. Eggs 31 Mar - 28 May; watch for fledglings June - July.
Northern Goshawk: Nested in the Cuyamaca Mts. in 1937 and 1938. Record not likely to be repeated!
Harris' Hawk: Three reports of nesting in the Boulevard area since 1994, unconfirmed or details not yet available. A possible colonizer to be watched for anywhere especially in southern and eastern San Diego Co.
Swainson's Hawk: Formerly nested in the county's inland valleys, but no nestings reported since 1933. Not likely to recolonize.
Red-shouldered Hawk: Widespread in riparian and oak woodland and in both rural and urban areas with large trees. Lacking from most of the Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests commonly placed in eucalyptus trees as well as native sycamores, cottonwoods, oaks, etc. Eggs 28 February - 13 May; watch for fledglings May - June.
Zone-tailed Hawk: The single known pair on Hot Springs Mt. last reported in 1993 but possibly not looked for adequately since. The increasing frequency of the species in winter suggests other nesting pairs are possible. Nesting schedule not known, but the birds have been seen near the nest from May to August, with young in the nest in July.
Red-tailed Hawk: Widespread throughout county, including Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests in tall trees, on power poles, or on cliffs, the most conspicuous nests of any bird of prey. Eggs 22 February - 15 April, watch for fledglings late April - July.
Golden Eagle: About 35 pairs widely scattered, mostly in foothills and mountains. Nests usually in cliff ledges, otherwise in trees on steep slopes. For data on this species, we will be asking the cooperation of an ongoing survey effort specific to the Golden Eagle, led by Dave Bittner. Eggs mainly 2 February - 26 April; watch for fledglings late April - July.
American Kestrel: Widespread throughout county, including Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests in tree cavities, crevices in bluffs, or among leaf bases in palm trees. Eggs 21 March - 14 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
Prairie Falcon: Probably fewer than 30 pairs, mainly in or near Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests on ledges of cliffs or bluffs; watch for guano whitewashing cliffs. Nesting schedule poorly reported, but expect fledglings May - June.
Peregrine Falcon: Three sites currently known: National City, San Diego - Coronado Bay bridge, and Point Loma. Colonization of additional sites likely as species increases. Watch for whitewash below inaccessible sites. Eggs 8 March - 25 May; watch for fledglings May - July. Considered endangered by both federal and state authorities; do not harass.
Fulvous Whistling Duck: Extirpated. Nested at least until 1931 and occurred at least until 1956. But any sighting now must be presumed to be of escapees from captivity.
Wood Duck: Established via nest boxes at Lake Cuyamaca and Santee Lakes. A few scattered nestings are known elsewhere, so consider the species possible around any wooded pond. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not well reported, but ducklings have been observed in late June.
Gadwall: Nests probably in all the lagoons and estuaries of northern and central San Diego Co.; nesting reported also at Lake Henshaw and in the Tijuana R. valley. Nests hidden in Salicornia or similar marsh vegetation, the incubating female flushing only when almost stepped on. Watch also for chicks following their mother, mainly late May - early July. This and the Mallard are now the two common nesting ducks of coastal north county.
Green-winged Teal: Only a single nesting known for San Diego Co., in the San Luis Rey R. valley in 1933, and one of the less likely duck species to be found nesting in the county, though still possible.
Mallard: Now widespread as a nesting species on fresh and brackish water throughout the county. Please specify whether any of the Mallards you observe are of evident domestic origin. Mallards of apparent wild origin may "self-domesticate" in the company of feral domestics. Females seen with broods of ducklings from late March at least through June.
Northern Pintail: In recent years, has nested only sporadically in San Diego Co., at the Santa Margarita R. mouth and in the south San Diego Bay salt works. June is evidently the most likely month for any brood of pintails to be seen.
Cinnamon Teal: Widespread but uncommon breeder on both fresh and brackish water throughout the coastal slope of San Diego Co. As with other ducks, watch for females suddenly flushing from nests or ducklings following their mother. Eggs at least 18 April - 25 June; watch for chicks May - July.
Northern Shoveler: Only one nesting confirmed in San Diego Co., in the Santa Margarita R. valley in Camp Pendleton in June 1978, but sporadic observations of summering shovelers along the north county coast suggest that the species may again nest occasionally.
Redhead: Nests in small numbers in brackish and fresh water along and near the coast, south to Los Peñasquitos Lagoon. Watch for chicks late May through August.
Ruddy Duck: Widespread and fairly common breeder on fresh and brackish water throughout the coastal slope of San Diego Co. Watch for males displaying in spring, eggs at least 2 May - 5 June, and chicks at least early June - mid August.
California Quail: Widespread on coastal slope and east at least to base of mountains in Anza - Borrego Desert. Often eliminated, however, from pockets of native scrub surrounded by urban development; confirming the species' persistence in or absence from such pockets is an example of the conservation-related information the atlas field work will generate. Eggs 9 April - 6 July; watch for chicks mainly May - August, though reported rarely both earlier and later.
Gambel's Quail: Resident in Borrego Valley. Do not assume that all quails in the Anza - Borrego Desert are Gambel's; identify this species only by critical study of the birds' underparts. California Quails are widespread in desert scrub all along the edge of the Anza - Borrego and east to the Imperial Co. line at least as far north as Carrizo Creek. The two species may hybridize. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not well reported, but chicks have been observed at least in late April.
Mountain Quail: Common in dense chaparral, down to about 2200 feet elevation in southern San Diego Co., as low as the Santa Margarita R. in the De Luz region. Apparently widespread in the juniper zone above 2500 feet along the edges of the Anza - Borrego Desert. Eggs 13 April - 29 May. Watch for the birds running along roads at dawn, listen for males calling "wooloop" in April and May, and look for chicks in at least late May and June.
Ring-necked Pheasant: Uncommon in grassland and agricultural areas. Former area of occurrence in Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, and Escondido areas rapidly being consumed by urban sprawl, so may soon die out in San Diego Co.
Wild Turkey: After earlier introductions died out, turkeys were released yet again in 1992 and have been seen since in the Pine Hills, Julian, Mesa Grande, San Felipe Valley, Lake Henshaw, Pamo Valley, and Boden Canyon areas.
Clapper Rail: Resident in tidal and brackish coastal marshes. Recent spread to north county lagoons could point the way to colonization of yet more new sites. Conversely, another population crash like that of the early 1980s remains possible. Eggs 6 March - 23 May; watch for downy black chicks April - June. Considered endangered by both federal and state authorities; do not harass.
Virginia Rail: Nests in fresh and brackish marshes locally throughout the county, including apparently the few suitable sites in the Anza - Borrego Desert. Eggs at least 9 April - 20 May. The birds, much less the nests, are hard to see, but watch for downy black chicks at least early June - early July.
Sora: Only a few old records of nesting, the most recent 1954. The few more recent summer records may be of nonbreeders only. Identify this species carefully, with the knowledge that winter visitors remain at least to early May and arrive in August and that the Virginia Rail is far more common in summer.
Common Gallinule: Resident locally in fresh and brackish marshes from coast east at least to San Pasqual, Lakeside, and Lower Otay Lake. Eggs at least 15 - 27 May; watch for chicks in June and July. Note dull-billed juveniles.
American Coot: Widespread breeder on fresh and brackish water throughout county, including the few suitable sites in the Anza - Borrego Desert. Eggs 22 April - 1 July; watch for chicks May - August; juveniles may still be following their parents in mid-September.
Black-necked Stilt: Nests along and near the coast and at Lake Hodges and in the San Pasqual Valley. Eggs 28 April - 27 June; watch for chicks May - July. Note agitated adults performing distraction displays.
American Avocet: Nests at many places along the coast, at some perhaps inconsistently. Also at Lake Hodges and in the San Pasqual Valley. Eggs apparently about late April - early June; watch for chicks June - early August. Adults often become aggressive up to a few hundred feet from a nest, screaming and swooping at intruders.
Killdeer: Widespread breeder in San Diego Co., locally even in Anza - Borrego Desert. Watch for distraction displays of adults, nests on ground--or sometimes on flat roofs! Eggs 18 March - 5 July; watch for chicks April - July.
Snowy Plover: One of San Diego County's most endangered birds, nesting locally and precariously on beaches and flats around lagoons. Eggs 27 March - 2 August; watch for chicks April - August. Watch for distraction displays of adults, but avoid disturbing the birds. We will try to rely as much as possible on ongoing monitoring studies for data on this species. Considered endangered by federal authorities; do not harass.
Spotted Sandpiper: A recent colonist, recorded nesting at San Elijo Lagoon and Lake Hodges. Colonization of further sites quite possible (suspected in Mission and Tijuana R. valleys). So far, eggs observed on 14 July, chicks in June and July.
Western Gull: Perhaps some 50 pairs now nest on artificial structures around north San Diego Bay. Nests on cliffs at La Jolla, best viewed from the water (see Brandt's Cormorant). Apparently increasing, so consider possible Western Gull sites (protected from terrestrial predators) elsewhere along the coast. Eggs at least 13 May - 21 June; watch for chicks June - July.
Black Skimmer: Now two colonies in San Diego Co., in the salt works and at Batiquitos Lagoon. Establishment of further colonies possible. Nests in midsummer but new colonies may begin in late summer (August 1995 at Batiquitos, with chicks not all fledged until 17 October).
Gull-billed Tern: A recent colonist, with 10 to 30 pairs (early 1990s) nesting with other terns in the south San Diego Bay salt works. Nesting season not yet well described; apparently mid to late summer.
Caspian Tern: One colony, in the south San Diego Bay salt works. Fledglings follow their parents many miles from the colony, so an adult feeding its young doesn't imply a nearby colony. Still, new colonies are possible, inland as well as along the coast (nested at Lake Elsinore, Riverside Co., in 1995). Eggs at least 16 April - 12 June.
Royal Tern: A few nest, possibly sporadically, with other terns in the salt works. Identify very critically from the abundant Elegant Tern.
Elegant Tern: One large colony, in the salt works. New colonies possible (Batiquitos Lagoon?). In spring, adults copulate far from colony; in summer, begging fledglings follow adults far from colony. Eggs 6 Apr - ?
Forster's Tern: Now two colonies in San Diego Co., salt works and Batiquitos Lagoon. Eggs at least 28 April - 4 July; watch for chicks late May - July. New colonies possible.
Sooty Tern: One pair copulated at the Santa Margarita R. mouth in July 1996, then seen pecking a skimmer chick in the salt works a month later. A possible future colonizer!
Least Tern: Well-surveyed colonies on a few beaches, bay-fill islands, and flats around lagoons. Be alert for the possibility of ephemeral colonies away from coastline (recorded in the San Dieguito R. valley and Mission Valley). Viable eggs 8 May - 31 July; watch for chicks June - August. Considered endangered by both federal and state authorities; do not disturb colonies. The atlas will rely on ongoing monitoring studies for thorough data on this species.
Domestic Pigeon: Urban habitats. Look for courtship displays, watch for nests on buildings and bridges, and listen for squealing nestlings in the sites as well as among leaf bases of Canary Island date palms. Breeds nearly year round.
Band-tailed Pigeon: Occurs in oak woodlands, in mountains normally in southern San Diego Co., but down to about 750 feet elevation in the De Luz region near the Riverside Co. line. Nesting sites and seasons may vary appreciably from year to year. Watch for display flights (rapid, shallow wingbeats and grating call). Eggs 6 March - 11 October, so fledglings possible almost year round.
Spotted Dove: Urban habitats. Greatly reduced from former numbers, if it hasn't died out in San Diego Co. completely. Last reported in Spring Valley and Encanto (1985). To be looked for also in Oceanside (still common in Los Angeles).
Mourning Dove: Widespread throughout San Diego Co. Nests easily found by flushing adult, then checking its perch. Watch for courtship display of adults, and note recently fledged juveniles. Eggs 15 March - 2 September; watch for fledglings April - September. Young reported even in February.
White-winged Dove: Nests only in Anza - Borrego Desert. Breeding season in San Diego Co. poorly reported; a nest has been observed on 4 March.
Common Ground Dove: In or near orchards (citrus, avocado) almost exclusively; in summer in riparian woods at least along Santa Margarita River. Current known range confined to Borrego Valley and inland valleys of northwestern and central San Diego Co. (Vista, Fallbrook, Valley Center, Pauma Valley, San Pasqual, Lakeside, etc.). Exercise extreme caution around orchards; avocado growers don't appreciate trespassers entering groves!
Parrots: Several species have been seen regularly in San Diego County, including the Blue-crowned Parakeet or Conure (Aratinga acuticaudata), the Mitred Parakeet or Conure (A. mitrata), the Red-crowned or Green-cheeked Parrot or Amazon (Amazona viridigenalis), and the Lilac-crowned Parrot or Amazon (A. finschi), not to mention the famous Point Loma macaws. Please record parrots even if you can not positively identify the species; describe any possible useful field marks on your daily form. Watch for possible nests in tree cavities and skirts of palm fronds.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: Presumed extirpated in San Diego Co., with only sporadic rare occurrences now. But a pair in San Pasqual Valley in 1992 suggests the possibility of exceptional nesting. Listen for calls in the tallest and most extensive riparian woodlands, June - August. Considered endangered by state authorities.
Greater Roadrunner: Widespread in county, excluding wooded areas but including chaparral up to at least 4000 feet elevation. Dies out in isolated pockets of native scrub surrounded by urban development, so be especially alert for this species along the urban fringe. Listen for cooing and bill rattling, and record observations of tracks (2 toes forward, 2 behind) even if you don't see the birds themselves. Eggs 14 February - 16 June; watch for young April - July.
Barn Owl: Widespread in county (possibly absent from some high mountains, though present on Palomar). Nests on buildings, under bridges, in abandoned mine shafts, in old raven nests, and in crevices on bluffs. Look for guano and pellets under possible nest sites. Eggs mainly 12 February - 22 May; watch for young March - June.
Flammulated Owl: Nesting not known in San Diego Co. but possible in high mountains. Strictly nocturnal. Listen at night for calling birds in open pine woodland, late April - June. Call, a series of single hoots, is low in both pitch and volume, easily masked by wind or talking. Nests in tree cavities.
Western Screech Owl: Resident primarily in oak and oak/conifer woodland. Possible also in riparian woodland lacking oaks. Rare observations also in the Anza - Borrego Desert (nonbreeding birds only?). Strictly nocturnal; listen at night for "bouncing ball" call; species responds to taps. Eggs 11 March - 31 May; watch for young (distinctive finely barred juvenile plumage) May - July.
Great Horned Owl: Widespread throughout San Diego Co., including the Anza - Borrego Desert and many urban areas. Listen for calling pairs (female's voice higher than male's; usually with more syllables). Nests most commonly in old hawk nests high in trees; also on buildings, on broken-off tree trunks, on cliff ledges, and in crevices in bluffs. Eggs 6 January - 13 April; watch for fledglings April - June.
N. Pygmy Owl: Very rare if not now extirpated from San Diego Co. Most likely in wooded north-sloping canyons. Not highly nocturnal, often calling well after dawn, even at midday. Nests in old woodpecker cavities. Identify this species only after careful visual study; series of high-pitched hoots heard at night are likely emitted by Saw-whet Owls.
Burrowing Owl: Nearing extirpation in coastal San Diego Co., with a substantial population only on North Island Naval Air Station. If you find Burrowing Owls at any other site, revisit it at least once to assess if the birds are actually resident. Small numbers still likely in the Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests usually in old ground squirrel burrows. Usually silent except near nest. Eggs 23 March - 16 June; watch for fledglings May - August.
Spotted Owl: Sparse resident in deep woods on mountain slopes. Listen for calls at night; adults bark, juveniles and females emit a high-pitched whine. Nesting season in San Diego Co. poorly known. Old egg dates for lowland sites 20 - 24 March; recently juveniles seen and heard in mountains in July.
Long-eared Owl: Nesting known in Anza - Borrego Desert at Tamarisk Grove Campground and Butterfield Stage Station, to be looked for elsewhere in the Anza - Borrego in dense-foliaged trees. A few nesting birds also recently rediscovered by Pete Bloom in Camp Pendleton. Nesting elsewhere on the coastal slope may be sporadic or ephemeral (Otay Mesa, 1994). Most likely in dense riparian or oak woodland; listen for heartbreaking moaning of adults. Eggs 7 February - 10 May; watch for fledglings April - June.
Short-eared Owl: Nested in Sweetwater River estuary in 1906 and seen in summer in the Santa Margarita River estuary most recently in 1972. One of the more remote possibilities of being found nesting again in San Diego Co.
N. Saw-whet Owl: Occurs most numerously on Palomar Mountain, down to 3000 feet elevation. A few records also for Cuyamaca Mts. and Hot Springs Mt. Possible also on Volcan Mt. Strictly nocturnal. Nesting pairs call most vigorously in late winter and early spring (February is good). Listen for repetitive high-pitched hooting at night. Nests in old woodpecker cavities. The few sightings of juveniles extend from 21 June to 19 July.
Lesser Nighthawk: Breeds in the Anza - Borrego Desert and probably in the Campo/Jacumba region. Formerly also widespread on coastal slope but much reduced by development of flat mesas and broad valleys. Where vernal pools persist, nighthawks have a chance as well. One recent report from El Cajon suggests the Lesser may be taking up the Common Nighthawk's habit of nesting on flat roofs. Check sites of flushed birds for eggs (laid directly on ground). Listen for trilling or purring calls at night. Eggs 23 April - 3 July; watch for fledglings late May - early August.
Poor-will: Widespread in chaparral and on desert slopes. Strictly nocturnal. In spring, migrants pass through February - early May; whether they call is unknown, so listen for calling birds late May - July. Eggs laid directly on ground, dates 22 March - 20 June.
White-throated Swift: Widespread (including Anza - Borrego Desert) but localized around suitable nest sites, originally crevices in cliffs and bluffs, now apparently commonly in buildings and under freeway bridges. Watch for birds entering such crevices and listen for them calling while hidden inside them. Look for paired birds tumbling through the air while in each other's grasp. Eggs at least 18 - 26 May.
Black-chinned Hummingbird: Most numerous in foothill woodland of oaks and sycamores but widespread in riparian woodland and edges all over the coastal slope. Watch for pendulum display of male, with buzzing wing sound. Listen for softly buzzy calls of female, a conclusive difference from Costa's. Nest is a smooth beige cup often made from the fuzz of sycamore leaves, commonly placed under woodland canopy.
Costa's Hummingbird: Widespread throughout county. The common hummingbird in the Anza - Borrego Desert: eggs at least 30 March (probably earlier) - 11 April; watch for fledglings April - May. Locally common also in sage scrub and chaparral throughout the coastal slope, including mountains, especially where abundantly flowering plants have followed a burn. Eggs on coastal slope 13 April - 13 June; watch for fledglings May - July. Listen for extremely high-pitched whining song of male, and softly metallic bushtitlike twittering calls of female, a conclusive difference from the Black-chinned. Nest gray and mottled (like Anna's), often placed in open.
Anna's Hummingbird: Widespread throughout coastal slope and local in Anza - Borrego Desert (mainly residential areas). Watch for aerial display of male, but check whether it is for the benefit of a female. Males display to other males and possibly to nothing at all. Eggs mainly 31 December - 5 June; watch for fledglings January - July.
Calliope Hummingbird: To be looked for in shrubbery near summits of highest mountains of San Diego Co. (>6000 feet elevation). A single record of a displaying pair on Hot Springs Mt., 24 June 1980. One record of a male summering on Palomar Mt., 1983.
Allen's Hummingbird: Not yet known to breed in San Diego County, but the species is spreading in Orange Co. and could reach northwestern San Diego Co. during the atlas period.
Belted Kingfisher: Nests very sparsely and irregularly on the coastal slope of northern San Diego Co., south to the Lake Hodges area. Nonbreeding visitors may remain as late as mid May and return as early as early July. Look for birds entering burrows in vertical banks. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not well known, but eggs recorded in April, fledglings in May.
Acorn Woodpecker: Range essentially coincides with that of oak trees. Birds absent from coastal strip where oaks sparse or absent. Species nests in noisy and conspicuous communes. Eggs 12 May - 18 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
Red-breasted Sapsucker: Nests in small numbers on Palomar Mt., and recorded rarely in summer on Hot Springs Mt. and Cuyamaca Peak (nests found in 1974 and 1983). Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not well known, but fledglings have been seen in June and July.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker: Uncommon but widespread in the Anza - Borrego Desert, favoring areas with agave. Westernmost known site east side of San Felipe Valley, but occurrence near Aguanga in Riverside County suggests the species is possible in the Oak Grove area (dry microhabitats?). Range appears to overlap that of Nuttall's at least in Coyote Creek/Collins Valley area and between Bankhead Springs and Jacumba. Other points of contact and hybrids are possible; identify both species with critical care on the desert slope of San Diego Co. Nesting season in San Diego Co. poorly known; eggs collected 6 April.
Nuttall's Woodpecker: Widespread on coastal slope in riparian and oak woodland and, apparently increasingly, in residential areas with mature trees. Watch for nest excavation as early as late February. Eggs 15 April - 18 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
Downy Woodpecker: Uncommon but widespread in riparian woodland at low elevations the entire length of the county, following sudden spread in the 1980s. Eggs at least 22 April - 24 May; watch for fledglings late May - early July.
Hairy Woodpecker: Uncommon in coniferous woodland, possibly rarely in pure oak woodland. Normally only above 4000 feet elevation, except along the Santa Margarita River above Fallbrook, apparently the southern limit of the species' lowland distribution. Nesting season in San Diego Co. not well reported; active nests observed on Palomar and Volcan Mts. in early June.
White-headed Woodpecker: Uncommon in coniferous woodland above 5000 feet elevation (white fir/sugar pine zone). Nesting season in San Diego Co. not well reported; nestlings observed in June, fledglings (red cap in both sexes) in July.
Flicker: Widespread though uncommon in riparian and oak woodland throughout the coastal slope. Distribution especially spotty near the coast, but flickers may nest in nonnative trees in urban areas (palms in Balboa Park). Winter visitors, far outnumbering resident population, gone by mid April. Eggs 9 April - 20 June; watch for fledglings late May - July.
Olive-sided Flycatcher: Rare but conspicuous (by voice, "quick, three beers") in coniferous woodland above 4500 feet elevation, extending lower in Big-cone Douglas Fir groves on slopes of Palomar Mountain. Cup nest placed on a high conifer limb. Not much data on breeding in San Diego Co.; eggs known 5 June - 4 July, watch for fledglings late June - early August. One lowland nesting in 1982 in eucalyptus at San Elijo Lagoon.
Western Wood Pewee: Fairly common in mountain woodlands, locally common in riparian woodland of inland valleys and in oak-lined canyons. Cup nest usually straddles a horizontal limb, 10 - 35 feet above ground. Eggs 19 May - 7 July; watch for fledglings mid June - early August. Spring migrants pass through as late as 10 June and fall migrants return in early August, so actually confirming breeding is more critical for this than for many species.
Willow Flycatcher: Known to breed annually only along the Santa Margarita River and between Lake Henshaw and the La Jolla Indian Reservation along the San Luis Rey River. Scattered pairs possible at other riparian sites, being recorded in last 20 years at Pilgrim Creek (Oceanside), lower San Luis Rey River, San Pasqual Valley, Lake Cuyamaca, Sweetwater Reservoir, Lower Otay Reservoir, and the Tijuana River Valley. Eggs 30 May - 28 June; watch for fledglings late June - mid August. Spring migrants pass through as late as 19 June (in Imperial Valley) and fall migrants return in late July, so confirming the species' presence on three visits between late June and mid July is essential to confirming it as even a probable breeder. Considered endangered by federal and state authorities; do not harass.
Dusky Flycatcher: Rare in coniferous woodland, mainly above 5500 feet elevation. With the birds so drab and inconspicuous, the song and "pitup" call are important in locating them. Not much data on species' nesting in San Diego Co.; nests observed on 25 June (incubating) and 13 July (nestlings).
Western Flycatcher: Uncommon to fairly common in riparian, oak, and coniferous woodlands, possibly increasing. Cup nest nestled in niche in bank, knothole of tree, or on stump of broken branch with trunk sloping above. Spring migrants still passing through in early June (as late as 26 June in Imperial Co.!) when local birds have young (buff wingbars), so actually confirming breeding is more critical for this than for many species. Insignificant twittering song (different from "sooweet" call) uttered only on breeding territory.
Black Phoebe: Fairly common and conspicuous, usually near water (sprinklers suffice!). Cup nests, made of mud, easy to find under bridges and on buildings, always with shelter above. In natural habitats, nests attached under granite boulders along streams. Eggs 17 March - 11 June; watch for fledglings (buff wingbars) mid April - July.
Say's Phoebe: Uncommon in Anza - Borrego Desert, rare in inland valleys on coastal side. Cup nests, made of grass and twigs, easy to find on buildings, especially those isolated in or at the edge of desert, grassland, or sparse sage scrub. In natural habitats, nests placed on rock ledges or in niches in sandy bluffs. Nestlings as early as 14 March in the Anza - Borrego Desert, probably later on the coastal side (fledglings 26 May in Santee). Winter visitors (far more numerous than breeding population) gone April - August, but occasional nonbreeding wanderers still seen then.
Vermilion Flycatcher: Isolated pairs nest, perhaps only sporadically, at Borrego Springs, Butterfield Stage Station (Mason Valley), and Jacumba. Possible elsewhere in desert or semidesert riparian or parklike sites. Old records of nesting nearer the coast, last in 1968. Cup nest made of slender twigs often placed in plain view at moderate height in tree. May raise two broods, with nest-building as early as 18 February and eggs as late as 9 June.
Ash-throated Flycatcher: Fairly common breeder in all habitats with trees, nesting typically in tree cavities but also in man-made objects (recorded even in a vacuum cleaner!). Eggs 6 May - 27 June; watch for fledglings (central rectrices rufous) early June - late July.
Cassin's Kingbird: Locally common and conspicuous (especially from loud "chibeer" call), largely if not entirely below 2000 feet elevation, on coastal slope only. Nests in tall trees (cottonwood, eucalyptus, etc.) bordering open areas. Agricultural areas are good habitat. Breeding season long, beginning as early as 28 March and fledglings still being fed by adults as late as 18 August. Beware adult Western Kingbirds in late summer with white tail edges worn off.
Western Kingbird: Most common in inland valleys but expected in grassland, agricultural belts, and areas of scattered rural homes throughout county, including Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests often in isolated tall trees. Eggs 8 April - 4 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
Horned Lark: Generally uncommon and distribution patchy, occurring in deserts, grassland, and possibly any open flat area. Horned Larks colonize areas graded for development, disappearing when construction begins. Watch for male's aerial display, accompanied by ascending tinkling song. Nests placed on ground but difficult to find. Eggs 5 April (probably earlier in Anza - Borrego Desert) - 20 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
Tree Swallow: Rare, with scattered pairs nesting in old woodpecker holes in riparian woodland and around lakes. Recent known sites include Lake Henshaw, Kit Carson Park, Santee, and Sweetwater River at Highway 94; others are likely. Nesting sites may not be used consistently from year to year. Known to attend nests at least 18 May - 29 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
focus/kingbirds.html Violet-green Swallow: Common in mountain woodland, nesting in old woodpecker holes. Nests rarely at lower elevations, in crevices in road cuts or cliffs as well as holes in trees. Watch for Violet-green Swallows around White-throated Swift sites. Eggs 28 May - 22 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
Purple Martin: Rare, with scattered colonies in dead trees in high mountains. Recent known sites near Palomar Observatory, Cuyamaca Peak, and Kitchen Creek Road near Sunrise Highway; others possible. No nesting at lower elevations known since 1978. Nesting schedule not well known; colonies active at least in June and July.
N. Rough-winged Swallow: Fairly common, nesting in burrows in banks or road cuts or in drain holes under bridges. Not colonial, but if a bridges offers several drain holes, each may host a pair of swallows. Nest building in April (carrying grass into holes), eggs in May, fledglings (rufous wingbars) in June.
Bank Swallow: Nested at Las Flores in Camp Pendleton until 1925. Not likely to recolonize, as the species as been extirpated as a breeder throughout southern California.
Barn Swallow: Regular in breeding season only near sea cliffs at La Jolla and Point Loma. Occasional breeding elsewhere in the coastal lowland on buildings, bridges, or wharves (near Santa Margarita River mouth, Rancho Bernardo, Coronado). Mud cup nest always protected by shelter above. Breeding season poorly known but may be long; eggs recorded as early as 24 March, fledglings as late as 6 August. Fall migrants may arrive in July when local fledglings are still following their parents.
Cliff Swallow: Common and colonial, placing enclosed mud nests on buildings, bridges, and cliffs. Watch for other species using Cliff Swallow nests. Eggs 29 April - 3 July; watch for fledglings (forehead brownish, throat mottled gray) June - early August.
Steller's Jay: Fairly common and conspicuous in coniferous and oak woodlands above 3500 feet elevation, extending down to about 2500 feet along San Luis Rey River. Eggs 3 May - 13 June; watch for fledglings (lack blue "eyebrows") June - July. Nesting of this and other corvids most easily confirmed by observing adults carrying nest material (sticks, twigs).
W. Scrub Jay: Common in chaparral, oaks, and residential areas east to edge of Anza - Borrego Desert. Eggs 10 March - 10 June; watch for fledglings (gray crown) late April - July.
American Crow: Common, increasing, and expanding, to be expected nesting in dense-foliaged trees (such as live oak) anywhere on the coastal slope, east to Banner and Boulevard, south to the Tijuana River, where a recent colonist. Eggs 24 March - 18 May, watch for fledglings May - July.
Common Raven: Common and increasing, one of the county's most widespread birds. Nests large but often cleverly hidden, built on cliff ledges, niches in bluffs, buildings, transmission towers, and trees. Eggs 6 March - 15 May; watch for fledglings late April - early July.
Loggerhead Shrike: Uncommon but widespread throughout county where dense-foliaged shrubs grow near ample expanses of open ground. Nests concealed behind foliage in middle of shrub or tree. Eggs 3 March - 21 June; watch for fledglings (plumage finely vermiculated) April - July.
Hutton's Vireo: Common in oak woodland, uncommon in riparian woodland on coastal slope. Song often critical for locating the birds: listen for monotonous deliberately repeated "zuweet" or "zewoot" song. Nests suspended from sides on slender twigs, at middle level of trees. Eggs 27 March - 16 May; watch for fledglings May - July.
Bell's Vireo: Restricted to riparian woodland, mainly in coastal lowland, rarely up to 3000 feet elevation. Also at a few oases in Anza - Borrego Desert. Population now rebounding and spreading in response to several years of cowbird trapping. Nests rather easy to find, averaging only 3 feet off ground and often placed at edges of riparian undergrowth, but avoid disturbing this endangered species (nests vulnerable to predation). Eggs 7 May - 12 July; watch for fledglings June - early August. Considered endangered by federal and state authorities; do not harass.
Gray Vireo: Rare in chaparral, known mainly from two areas: stands of Redshanks between Warner Springs and Indian Flats Campground and lower slopes of the Laguna Mountains from Pine Valley Creek southeast to La Posta Creek. Observed also on Palm Mesa, in upper Borrego Palm Canyon, in the Piñon Mountains, in the Corral Canyon area, and on Potrero Peak. With historical records, these suggest the species is possible in dry chaparral or piñon/juniper woodland anywhere in eastern San Diego Co. between 2500 and 5000 feet elevation.
Solitary Vireo: Rare in coniferous and black oak woodland above 3000 feet elevation in mountains. An old nesting record for Lake Hodges suggests that species could recolonize lower elevations as cowbird parasitism is alleviated. Eggs 15 May - 28 June; watch for fledglings late June - early August.
Warbling Vireo: Generally rare, persisting mainly in cottonwood groves along the upper Santa Margarita River. Scattered individuals or pairs observed in coniferous/black oak woodland in mountains, especially along creeks, and elsewhere in riparian woodland at lower elevations. With cowbird trapping, the vireos may increase in response. Listen for song, something like an abbreviated House Finch's. Spring migrants pass through as late as mid June in spring, so observations in late June and July will be most informative. Nests higher in canopy than other vireos. Eggs 13 May - 16 June; watch for fledglings mid June - late July.
Mountain Chickadee: Common in coniferous woodland above 4000 feet elevation. Resident in planted pines in Oak Hill Cemetery in Escondido, so possibly resident also elsewhere in conifers at low elevations. Nests in tree cavities. Eggs at least 20 May - 24 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
Plain Titmouse: Common in oak woodland, including mixed pine/oak woodland, and in chaparral and riparian woodland with only scattered oaks. Distribution patchy near coast where oak groves are small and scattered. Nests in tree cavities. Eggs 10 April - 28 May; watch for fledglings May - early July.
Verdin: Common in washes in the Anza - Borrego Desert, up to 3000 feet elevation, west to near Banner and Jacumba. Globular nests easily located in thorny shrubs and trees, but these are built for roosting as well as nesting. Eggs 21 March - 23 April; watch for fledglings (gray head) April - June.
Bushtit: Common in many habitats throughout the coastal slope and east to edge of desert (Lower Willows along Coyote Creek, Yaqui Well, Vallecito Mountains, and In-Ko-Pah). Long bag nests, made of lintlike debris, easily located at moderate height in trees and shrubs. Eggs 18 March - 15 June; watch for fledglings late April - July.
Pygmy Nuthatch: Common in open pine woodland above 4500 feet elevation; uncommon in other types of coniferous woods. Nests in tree cavities. Eggs 14 May - 1 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Rare in coniferous woodland above 5500 feet elevation, where the few birds seen may be scattered nonbreeders. Colony on Point Loma died out, but could be reestablish itself there or in conifers at other lowland sites after the invasion of 1996. Nests in tree cavities (not necessarily of conifer). Nesting season in San Diego Co. not well known; seen entering hole on 2 June.
White-breasted Nuthatch: Fairly common in oak and coniferous woodland above 1500 feet elevation, locally at lower elevations in north county (Oak Hill Cemetery, Escondido). Nests in tree cavities. Eggs 12 April - 29 May; watch for fledglings May - July.
Brown Creeper: Uncommon in coniferous woodland above 4500 feet, favoring shady north-facing slopes with Incense Cedar and Big-cone Douglas Fir. Nests hidden behind slabs of loose bark. Eggs at least 15 - 29 May; watch for fledglings June - July.
American Dipper: Very rare along rocky streams. Last report by birdwatchers 1988, along the San Luis Rey River below Lake Henshaw (confirmed absent there since 1993), but trout fishermen claim the species still occurs at a few other sites. Nest wedged among overhanging rocks, above water. One recorded egg date for the county: 25 May.
San Diego Cactus Wren (subspecies sandiegensis): Rare and local in extensive cactus thickets in coastal lowland. See Rea and Weaver, 1990, Western Birds 21:81 - 126, for known distribution and biology. Nests, almost invariably placed in cactus, easier to find than the birds themselves. Each bird makes several nests, for roosting as well as nesting, and old nests may outlive the birds at sites where they have been extirpated. So record the nests, but watch for the birds and their young too. Eggs 5 April - 22 June; watch for fledglings (breast finely streaked) May - July.
Desert Cactus Wren (subspecies anthonyi): Common and widespread in the Anza - Borrego Desert, ranging up to at least 4000 feet elevation and extending west locally on coastal slope in north to Oak Grove and in southeast to near La Posta navy microwave station. Habits like those of coastal subspecies, but more conspicuous and vocal and less exclusively tied to cactus; nests may be in thorny shrubs. Eggs at least 11 March - 15 April; watch for fledglings April - May.
Rock Wren: Common on rocky desert slopes, but uncommon and scattered over most of county where there are rock outcrops, road cuts, or neglected graded areas. Nests in rock crevices or burrows in dirt banks (taking over old rodent burrows?). Entrance often lined with small pebbles. Eggs at least 6 - 25 April; watch for fledglings May - June.
Cañon Wren: Uncommon in rocky gorges and around granite outcrops in chaparral. Nest usually well hidden in rock crevices but may be inside a building or cave--always in an enclosed space. Eggs 31 March - 11 July; watch for fledglings May - August.
Marsh Wren: Fairly common in marshes of cattails and tules along and near the coast (inland almost to Interstate 15 along San Luis Rey River and east of it in San Pasqual Valley). Males build several globular nests, often conspicuous in marsh. Female selects and finishes one or builds her own. So record nests, but watch for other types of breeding activity too. Eggs 29 April - 20 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
Bewick's Wren: Widespread in many habitats, lacking only from unrelieved urban areas and sparse desert scrub. Nests well hidden in a wide variety of cavities, often near or on the ground: rock crevices, tree holes, burrows, inside the fallen stalks of dead yuccas, or in trash left by people. Eggs 19 March - 17 June; watch for fledglings (mottled underparts) late April - July.
House Wren: Common in wooded habitats, especially of sycamore and live oak, on coastal slope. Nests usually in old woodpecker holes, easy to find as male often sings loudly within inches of it. May be expanding gradually into the originally treeless areas of San Diego by occupying birdhouses. Eggs 14 April - 13 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
N. Mockingbird: Common in residential and agricultural areas, less so in native sage scrub, broken chaparral, and desert washes. Nests well concealed in dense shrub but quickly betrayed by aggressive defense of adults and high-pitched begging calls of nestlings. Eggs 27 March - 7 August; watch for fledglings (breast spotted) May - August.
Bendire's Thrasher: One nesting known, 2.3 mi. SSW of Ocotillo Wells in 1993. Nest, in the middle of a tall Desert Lavender, had 2 chicks when discovered on 26 April. Further nestings in Anza - Borrego Desert perhaps most likely after wet winters.
LeConte's Thrasher: Rare in sandy desert scrub. Nests placed in cacti or dense or thorny shrubs including saltbush, ocotillo, or Lycium. Eggs 22 February - 25 April; watch for fledglings April - June.
California Thrasher: Fairly common in chaparral, in mesquite thickets along west edge of Anza - Borrego Desert. Nests concealed in the middle of large shrubs. Eggs 9 February - 13 June; watch for fledglings late March - July.
Crissal Thrasher: Rare in mesquite thicket in center of Borrego Valley. Nesting schedule in San Diego County not known; indeed, no actual nests have been reported in the county!
European Starling: Common in all man-modified habitats where structures offer cavities for nesting (under roof tiles, in street lamps, in vent holes, etc.) and in native woodlands where the starlings can appropriate woodpecker holes. Long breeding season. Juveniles gray, obscurely streaked below.
Western Bluebird: Common in coniferous and oak woodland in inland valleys, foothills, and mountains. Near coast only in Camp Pendleton. Attracted to mistletoe. Nests in tree cavities. Eggs 1 May - 12 June; watch for fledglings (plumage spotted) June - July.
Townsend's Solitaire: Only three breeding-season records, one for Palomar, two for Middle Peak in the Cuyamaca Mountains, but one of the latter was of a pair. Sporadic breeding possible in shady woods in deep canyons on north-facing slopes at San Diego County's highest elevations. Nest usually on a bank, among roots.
Swainson's Thrush: Rare in riparian woodland at low elevations and in montane riparian woodland on Palomar Mountain. Spring migrants pass through until at least 10 June, so observations in late June and July are critical to understanding species' breeding distribution. Difficult to see; best located by ethereal song, spiraling upward. Eggs at least 31 May - 26 June; watch for fledglings late June - early August.
Hermit Thrush: Only four breeding-season records, one each on Palomar, Hot Springs, Volcan, and Cuyamaca mountains. Sporadic breeding possible in shady woods in deep canyons on north-facing slopes at San Diego County's highest elevations.
American Robin: Fairly common in urban parks and montane coniferous woods. Needs a supply of mud for nest. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not well known, but nests observed in Presidio Park 24 April, in Laguna Mts. on 25 June. Fledglings (plumage spotted) reported mainly late June - July.
Wrentit: Common in sage scrub and chaparral. Ranges east to edge of Anza - Borrego Desert, where occurs in mesquite thickets. Birds typically paired. Cup nest well hidden in shrub. Eggs 20 March - 6 June; watch for fledglings late April - July.
Golden-crowned Kinglet: Recent colonist of coniferous forest above 5500 feet elevation on Hot Springs and Cuyamaca mountains. Nesting in San Diego Co. not yet observed. Nests built high in conifers.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher: Uncommon in chaparral (especially chamise) above 2000 feet elevation. Occasional in desert riparian. Formerly in coastal lowland, and recent observations near Spring Valley and in Miramar Naval Air Station suggest the species is beginning to reoccupy this habitat in response to lessening cowbird parasitism. Cup nest placed low in shrub. Eggs 17 April - 8 July; watch for fledglings May - August.
California Gnatcatcher: Uncommon in remaining coastal sage scrub, mainly below 1200 feet elevation, rarely up to 2000 feet (Nate Harrison Grade, San Vicente Valley). Cup nests placed in low shrubs (avoid disturbing nests and attracting predators like Scrub Jays!). Eggs 24 March to about 23 July; watch for fledglings late April - August.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher: Fairly common in Anza - Borrego Desert, up to 2500 feet elevation. Occurs around Aguanga in Riverside County, so possible in dry microhabitats on coastal slope around Oak Grove in nearby San Diego County. Cup nest in shrub. Schedule in San Diego Co. not well reported; nests recorded at least 23 April - 16 May.
Phainopepla: Common in mistletoe-laden mesquite in Anza - Borrego Desert; fairly common in oak woodland, riparian woodland, and chaparral (especially with Redberry, Rhamnus crocea) on coastal slope. Cup nest in tree. Nests early in Anza - Borrego Desert (eggs in February, fledglings in early May, departure by June), but schedule there poorly reported. On coastal slope, eggs 8 May - 12 July; watch for fledglings June - August.
House Sparrow: A commensal of man, typically nesting in cavities in structures but occasionally building a spherical nest in a tree (as in thorn trees on the grounds of the Wild Animal Park). Long nesting season.
Pine Siskin: Only three breeding-season records, one for Palomar, two for the Cuyamaca Mountains, but one of the latter was of five birds, including a juvenile, on 19 July. Sporadic breeding possible in coniferous forest at San Diego County's highest elevations.
American Goldfinch: Common in riparian woodland on coastal slope. Attracted to willows, alders, and dry open fruits of Hooker's Evening Primrose, Oenothera elata. Cup nest in tree. Eggs 21 April - 21 July; watch for fledglings late May - August.
Lesser Goldfinch: Common and widespread, nesting usually near water. Cup nest in shrub or tree (even Arundo donax!), often near eye level. Eggs 6 April - 24 July; watch for fledglings May - August. Sporadic breeding later in fall.
Lawrence's Goldfinch: Uncommon and irregular. Nests mainly in inland valleys, foothills, and mountains, seldom near coast, uncertainly in desert. Ideal habitat groves of dense-foliaged trees like live oaks adjacent to open areas with the boraginaceous herbs (fiddleneck, Amsinckia; popcorn flower, Cryptantha and Plagiobothrys) whose seeds the goldfinches prefer. Cup nest in tree, may be far from water to which the birds must commute daily. Eggs 7 April - 9 July; watch for fledglings May - August.
Purple Finch: Fairly common in black oak and coniferous woodland in mountains, above 5000 feet in Laguna Mts., occasionally down to 2500 feet along San Luis Rey River. Cup nest in tree. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. unreported.
House Finch: Common in many habitats throughout county. Cup nest placed in shrub or tree (where usually concealed in dense foliage) or on building or bridge. Eggs 30 March - 20 July; watch for fledglings (down commonly clings to tip of head feathers) April - August.
Orange-crowned Warbler: Uncommon to fairly common (increasing?) in riparian, oak, and coniferous woodland (subspecies lutescens). In chaparral and sage scrub, especially in canyons, on Point Loma, at San Elijo and Batiquitos Lagoons, and probably elsewhere along the coast (subspecies sordida). Forages and sings in middle to upper levels of trees but nests usually placed on or near the ground under dense cover. Eggs 26 April - 14 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
Lucy's Warbler: Recent (1990) colonist of the mesquite thicket in the Borrego Valley. Possible in riparian oases elsewhere in Anza - Borrego Desert. Nesting confirmed in 1993 with observations of fledglings in May. Species nests in tree cavities, probably old holes dug by Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.
Yellow Warbler: Fairly common in mature riparian woodland on coastal slope. Cup nest in undergrowth, middle story, or canopy. Fledglings rather easily located by high-pitched staccato begging calls. Eggs 3 May - 20 June; watch for fledglings June - early August.
Black-throated Gray Warbler: Rare in pine/oak woodlands of mountains. Cup nest in undergrowth or middle story. Little data on nesting in San Diego Co.; eggs at least 15 May - 4 June; fledglings observed 12 June.
Yellow-rumped Warbler: Recent colonist (since 1986) of coniferous forest above 5500 feet elevation on Hot Springs, Volcan, and Cuyamaca mountains. Fledglings observed on 12 July; no other nesting data for San Diego Co. reported. Nests placed from middle story to canopy.
Common Yellowthroat: Common in freshwater marshes and riparian woodland. Nests in understory, often practically on the ground. Eggs 14 April - 14 June; watch for fledglings May - July.
Wilson's Warbler: Probably always rare (southern margin of breeding range), then extirpated by cowbirds. Two summer observations in north county riparian areas in 1980s and one recent nesting: fledglings along Santa Margarita River, Camp Pendleton, 11 July 1995. May recolonize riparian woodland from which cowbirds have been removed. Cup nest on or near ground.
Painted Redstart: One nesting known: Agua Dulce Creek, Laguna Mountains, nestlings on 6 June 1974. Possible again in pine/oak woodland of mountains. Nest on ground, partially covered.
Yellow-breasted Chat: Fairly common only in extensive riparian woodland. Nests well concealed in dense undergrowth. Eggs 4 May - 6 July; watch for fledglings June - August.
Western Tanager: Generally uncommon in coniferous woodland above 4500 feet elevation in mountains. Nest usually in canopy near end of conifer branch but sometimes down to 6 feet from ground. Eggs at least 6 - 27 June; watch for fledglings July - August.
Black-headed Grosbeak: Fairly common in all wooded habitats on coastal slope. Nests placed in middle story of trees, average 10 feet from ground. Eggs 28 April - 4 July; watch for fledglings late May - August.
Blue Grosbeak: Uncommon in riparian scrub (mulefat, fennel, or, in Anza - Borrego Desert, mesquite) and riparian woodland edges. Mainly sea level to 3000 feet, rarely up to 4500 feet. Nest usually concealed in undergrowth, rarely as high as 20 feet from ground. Eggs 7 May - 9 July; watch for fledglings (rich ocher, when worn adult females are drab brown) June - August.
Indigo Bunting: At least three observations of males paired with apparent female Lazuli Buntings. The Indigo could hybridize with the Lazuli wherever the latter occurs.
Lazuli Bunting: Usually uncommon in broken chaparral and woodland edges, coastal slope only. Most common in recovering burnt sage scrub and chaparral. Nest usually in low undergrowth. Eggs 6 May - 27 June; watch for fledglings June - August. Adults often abandon their territories by mid July.
Green-tailed Towhee: Rare in chaparral and ferns above 5500 feet elevation on Palomar, Hot Springs, and Cuyamaca mountains. Nests in low shrubs or on ground under them. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. poorly known though fledglings observed in late July.
Spotted Towhee: Common in chaparral and woodland undergrowth east to edge of Anza - Borrego Desert. Nest on ground under shrub. Eggs 11 March - 4 July; watch for fledglings (plumage streaked brown, no rufous) April - August.
Brown Towhee: Common in sage scrub, chaparral, and ornamental shrubbery, east to Borrego Palm Canyon, Mason Valley, and In-Ko-Pah. Nests usually in shrubs but occasionally as high as 25 feet in trees. Eggs 16 March - 2 July; watch for fledglings (entire underparts softly streaked) April - August.
Black-throated Sparrow: Common in desert and desert-edge scrub, west to San Felipe Valley and Boulevard. Occurs also in dry washes on coastal slope near Oak Grove. Nest in cactus or low shrub. Nesting season in San Diego Co. not well reported but typically April - June over most of range. Juveniles' throat and breast white with fine dark streaks.
Sage Sparrow: Fairly common in level to gently sloping sage scrub or semiopen chaparral (flat mesas or areas partially recovered from burn). Bare ground unencumbered by heavy leaf litter essential. Nests from ground to 2 feet above. Eggs 25 March - 11 June; watch for fledglings late April - July.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow: Fairly common in sage scrub, burnt chaparral, and along firebreaks in mature chaparral. South-facing slopes with scattered rocks and bunches of the tall grass Stipa coronata are prime habitat. Nest usually on ground, sometimes slightly elevated in shrub. Eggs 11 March - 7 June; watch for fledglings (breast lightly streaked) April - July.
Chipping Sparrow: Uncommon in grassy openings in oak and pine woodland above 3000 feet elevation. Isolated population on Point Loma. Possibly nests elsewhere at lower elevations but current range and populations apparently smaller than historically. Placement of nest ranges from ground to canopy. Eggs 29 April - 21 June; watch for fledglings (underparts streaked) late May - August.
Black-chinned Sparrow: Common on chaparral-covered slopes in mountains, less common in foothills, and normally absent within 10 miles of coast. Nest usually in middle of shrub. Eggs at least 3 - 26 May, watch for fledglings (underparts streaked) June - July.
Lark Sparrow: Generally uncommon but widespread throughout county in agricultural zones, oak savanna, and grassy areas mixed with shrubs. Nest placement variable, usually on ground or in shrub. Eggs 27 March - 28 June; watch for fledglings (underparts finely streaked, head pattern muted with chestnut replaced by drab brown) late April - August.
Belding's Savannah Sparrow: Restricted to salt and brackish marshes along coast. Nest placed on or near the ground under Salicornia. Eggs 15 March - 2 July; watch for fledglings late April - July. Considered endangered by state authorities; do not harass.
Grasshopper Sparrow: Confined to native grassland or mixed grassland/sage scrub almost exclusively. Extensive stands of Nassella (formerly known as Stipa) bunchgrass, blue-eyed "grass" (actually the iris Sisyrinchium bellum), and the yellow-flowered onion relative Bloomeria crocea are good indicators of good Grasshopper Sparrow habitat. Nest hidden at base of clump of grass, extremely hard to find. Eggs at least 26 April - 8 May; watch for fledglings (underparts streaked) late May - June.
Fox Sparrow: Rare in chaparral (mainly Ceanothus palmeri) above 5500 feet elevation on Cuyamaca (regular), Palomar (irregular), and Volcan (regularity unknown) mountains. Nest in shrub or on ground under dense cover. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. unknown. From observations elsewhere in California, expect fledging late June - early July.
Song Sparrow: Common in riparian woodland and riparian scrub. Nest usually in low dense vegetation or on ground. Eggs 16 February - 18 July; watch for fledglings March - August.
White-crowned Sparrow: One nesting known, in 1983 on Palomar Mountain. A freak record, following an exceptionally wet winter.
Dark-eyed Junco: Common in coniferous woodland above 4000 feet elevation, down to 2200 feet in Bigcone Douglas Fir along San Luis Rey River. Nesting in oak woodland in Boden Canyon suggests nesting is possible elsewhere in oak-lined foothill canyons. Nested at least in late 1980s in Torrey Pines State Reserve and on campus of UCSD in La Jolla. Nest usually on ground, rarely as high as 20 feet in tree. Eggs 5 May - 13 July; watch for fledglings (streaked brown) June - August.
Western Meadowlark: Common in grassland, agricultural areas, disturbed weedy areas, and salt marshes. Nest on ground, partially domed over. Eggs 11 March - 15 June; watch for fledglings late April - July.
Red-winged Blackbird: Common in freshwater marshes and brush or weeds near water. Nest variably placed but usually within dense thicket or marsh. Eggs 20 March - 18 June; watch for fledglings (background color of underparts yellowish buff) late April - July.
Tricolored Blackbird: Dense colonies in freshwater marshes. Currently known colonies few but not known exhaustively and some sites ephemeral. Alarming decrease over past 15 years. Eggs 30 March - 26 May; watch for fledglings May - June. In summer, heavily worn female Redwings may look practically identical to the dark-bellied female Tricolor; voice and behavior as well as males' plumage are essential to correct identification.
Yellow-headed Blackbird: Nesting in San Diego Co. not conclusively known but possibly sporadic in freshwater marshes. Possibility increases with distance from coast (most likely at desert sites). Spring migrants pass through until May, so observations in June and July are most relevant to possible breeding.
Brewer's Blackbird: Common in urban areas, nesting especially in conifers adjacent to lawns. Also in trees adjacent to damp meadows in mountains. Original lowland riparian habitat abandoned. Eggs 5 March - 28 June; watch for fledglings April-August.
Great-tailed Grackle: Recent colonist (since 1988), nesting in freshwater marshes and riparian habitat adjacent to residential or agricultural areas. Nesting sites and population rapidly increasing. Nesting schedule in San Diego Co. not yet well described; expect incubation in May, fledging June - July.
Bronzed Cowbird: Still just one breeding record, parasitizing Brewer's Blackbird at Jacumba in 1974. One or two trapped in Borrego Springs area in 1990. Parasitism of orioles or blackbirds in Borrego Valley perhaps most likely prospect for further breeding in county.
Brown-headed Cowbird: Common in a wide variety of habitats, especially riparian woodland, except where trapped intensively. Foraging areas may be distant from hosts' nests. Many species known as hosts, but currently the Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Oriole, and Dark-eyed Junco are especially frequent. Eggs 27 April - 30 June; watch for fledglings (underparts buff, finely streaked) late May - August. Record identity of foster parents whenever observed.
Scott's Oriole: Uncommon in desert-edge scrub with agave or juniper. In eastern half of county possible also in chaparral with blooming Yucca whipplei. On coastal slope, most likely in dry washes near Oak Grove, as suggested by old record and current occurrence at nearby Aguanga in Riverside County. Nest usually 4 feet or higher in agave, yucca, juniper, or taller tree. Nest baglike but may be in part supported by branches below. Little data on nesting schedule in San Diego Co.; eggs at least 16 - 20 May, active nest (eggs or nestlings) 21 June; watch for fledglings June - July.
Hooded Oriole: Common in residential areas, nesting typically in Washingtonia fan palms, also in eucalyptus, banana, and fig trees, attaching the baglike nest to the undersides of the leaves. Also groves of native palms in Anza - Borrego Desert. Original habitat of riparian woodland and sycamore groves largely abandoned. Eggs 21 April - 4 August; watch for fledglings late May - August.
Also see Focus on Scott's, Bullock's, and Hooded Orioles