California is home to a variety of stunning white birds that are just waiting to be explored. It’s easy to spot these beautiful creatures, but can you correctly identify them?
In this guide, I’ll showcase 15 different types of white birds found in California. Whether they are common or rare, completely white or have some other colors mixed in, this resource will help you improve your bird-watching skills.
Get ready to go on an exciting journey through the fascinating world of California’s white-feathered friends.
- 1 – American White Pelican
- 2 – Wood Stork
- 3 – Cattle Egret
- 4 – Great Egret
- 5 – Snowy Egret
- 6 – Tundra Swan
- 7 – Red-billed Tropicbird
- 8 – Snow Goose (White Morph)
- 9 – Great Blue Heron (White Morph)
- 10 – Ross’s Goose (White Morph)
- 11 – American Avocet
- 12 – Snow Bunting
- 13 – Ring-billed Gull
- 14 – White-Tailed Kite
- 15 – Rock Pigeon (White morph)
1 – American White Pelican
Quick ID guide for American White Pelican
- Body: Large white body and white head with black outer wing feathers
- Bill: Huge long bill with an expandable throat pouch. Breeding adults have a ridge on the bill. Bill is orange-yellow in breeding birds and turns duller yellow in the nonbreeding season.
The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is a magnificent bird that captures attention with its impressive size and unique appearance.
Its body is predominantly white, with black flight feathers that stand out in contrast. Both male and female American White Pelicans exhibit this striking white plumage.
These beautiful birds can be found in various habitats, including lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. They have a wide distribution range, spanning across North America.
In California, the American White Pelican can be spotted during the winter months, particularly in the southern part in large bodies of water. At the Northern part of the state you may find breeding colonies as well.
Keep an eye out for these graceful creatures as they glide across the water, using their large bill to scoop up fish and other aquatic prey.
Witnessing the sight of American White Pelicans in California is a true spectacle for nature enthusiasts.
2 – Wood Stork
Quick ID guide for Wood Stork
- Wood Stork is a large white bird with black flight feathers. One of their distinguishable features is the featherless blackish color head and upper neck.
- Another feature that differentiates them is their long downward-curved dark bill
- Wood Storks have blackish gray legs
The Wood Stork (Mycteria american) is a remarkable bird with a striking appearance about 3 feet in height.. Its large body is predominantly white, with black flight feathers and a bald, scaly head.
Both male and female Wood Storks share this white plumage, making them easily identifiable. These magnificent birds can be found in wetland habitats such as marshes, swamps, and shallow lakes.
While the Wood Stork’s breeding range primarily encompasses the southeastern United States, it is considered a rare visitor in California particularly in the south.
If you’re lucky, you may spot a Wood Stork in Texas during the summer months, as they occasionally make appearances in coastal regions and large wetland areas.
3 – Cattle Egret
Quick ID guide to Cattle Egret
- Cattle Egrets are also all-white birds. Their necks and legs are shorter when compared to other egrets. One of the distinguishable features in Cattle Egrets is their Oakley yellow feathers on the chest, back, and crown during the breeding season.
- Breeding adults have yellow or reddish legs and non-breeders have dark legs (blackish).
- Cattle Egrets have a stout dagger-shaped bill that is yellow in the non-breeding season and red-orange in the breeding season.
Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis) are native to Africa. But, now they have spread widely over many states of North America as well as in the other parts of the world. Sporting a predominantly white plumage, both male and female Cattle Egrets share this characteristic.
However, during the breeding season, these birds develop unique features, such as buff-colored plumes on their head, neck, and back. They can be easily identified by their short yellow bill and contrasting dark legs.
Cattle Egrets are adaptable and can be found in various habitats, including fields, grasslands, and wetlands. In California, they are a common sight throughout the year, especially in rural areas and near livestock.
These birds are often seen foraging alongside cattle, as they have a symbiotic relationship, feeding on insects and other small creatures disturbed by the grazing animals.
So keep your eyes peeled when exploring California, as you might spot these industrious Cattle Egrets year-round!
4 – Great Egret
Quick ID guide to Great Egret
- They have a comparatively larger body with beautiful all-white plumage. Their bodies look tall and thin and they have S-shaped necks.
- Leg color is black.
- Great Egrets have yellow color, dagger-shaped bills (Great Egrets in the Americas have yellow bills)
The Great Egret (Ardea alba) is a majestic bird that never fails to catch the eye of birdwatchers. With its large size and striking appearance, it’s hard to miss! The Great Egret sports a predominantly white plumage, which is the same for both males and females.
During breeding season, they develop unique features like long plumes on their back and neck, adding a touch of flair to their appearance. You can spot these graceful creatures in a variety of habitats such as wetlands, marshes, and shallow waters across California.
They have a wide distribution range throughout North and Central America. The best time to catch a glimpse of the Great Egret in California is during the spring and summer months when they are most active and readily visible.
5 – Snowy Egret
Quick ID guide to Snowy Egret
- They have all-white bodies. Similar to Great Egrets, they also have S-shaped necks. Snowy Egrets get long lacy plumes on the head, back, and neck during the breeding season.
- Leg and feet color: They have black legs (like Great Egrets) but their feet are bright yellow in color (non-breeding) and orange-red (breeding)
- Their bill is black in color and it has a yellow patch at the base of the bill.
The Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) is a striking bird known for its elegant appearance. It boasts a snowy white plumage, which is shared by both males and females.
What sets this beautiful species apart are its distinguishing features, such as long black legs, a slender black bill, and striking yellow feet. These contrasting colors create a captivating visual effect.
Snowy Egrets can be found in various habitats, including marshes, swamps, and coastal areas. Their distribution range extends across North and South America.
Similar to many other beautiful birds, Snowy Egrets were also hunted for their feathers in the late 1800s and it led to the near extinction of this beautiful bird.
But, now, they are widespread across the United States and can be seen fairly commonly in many states including California
When foraging, they use their feet to stir the water and probe to make their prey move so that they can hunt them. Mostly, they forage in estuarine and freshwater habitats. You can often see them along with other egrets.
In California, you can spot these graceful birds throughout the year, as they are residents in the state.
Keep an eye out for them in wetland areas and coastal regions, where they can often be seen wading in shallow waters, searching for their favorite meals of fish, crustaceans, and insects.
6 – Tundra Swan
Quick ID guide for Tundra Swan
- Body Size: The Tundra Swan is a large bird, measuring approximately 4 to 5 feet in length.
- Bill: It has a long and straight bill, which is predominantly black.
- Plumage, Bill, and Legs Colors: The plumage of the Tundra Swan is mostly white, with black legs and feet. However, some individuals may exhibit a slight yellow patch near the base of the bill.
The Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus), a majestic bird of North America, is known for its striking appearance and distinctive characteristics.
Both male and female Tundra Swans exhibit brilliant white plumage, making them easily recognizable in their habitats.
These beautiful birds can be found in various habitats, including wetlands, ponds, and lakes, particularly during their winter migration.
They primarily feed on aquatic vegetation, using their long necks to reach underwater plants.
While the Tundra Swan is widely distributed across North America, it can also be spotted in California during the winter months, making it a delightful sight for bird enthusiasts in the Lone Star State.
7 – Red-billed Tropicbird
Quick ID guide for Red-billed Tropicbird
- A medium-sized bird, measuring approximately 18 to 21 inches in length.
- Bill and legs: The Red-billed Tropicbird is characterized by its bright red bill and red legs. These colorful features stand out against its white plumage.
- The Red-billed Tropicbird is predominantly white, with long, streaming white tail feathers.
- Its wings may have black markings, and it possesses black eye markings that add to its distinctive appearance.
The Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) is a contrasting and graceful seabird that enchants with its unique appearance.
With a predominantly white plumage, both male and female Red-billed Tropicbirds showcase this striking coloration. Their distinguishing features include a vibrant red bill and captivating red legs, adding a touch of brilliance to their elegant presence.
These birds are often found in tropical and subtropical regions, frequenting offshore islands and coastal areas.
While the Red-billed Tropicbird is not commonly seen in California, occasional sightings occur along the western coast, particularly during the summer months.
Witnessing the beauty and aerial acrobatics of these seabirds is a rare treat for bird enthusiasts exploring the California coastline.
8 – Snow Goose (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Snow Goose (White Morph)
- A medium-sized bird, measuring about 25 to 31 inches in length.
- Bill and legs: This beautiful goose has a short, pink bill and pink legs, adding a touch of color to its overall appearance.
- Plumage: The Snow Goose (White Morph) is distinguished by its pristine white plumage.
- The entire body, including the wings, is primarily white, with no significant markings or patterns.
- This snowy-white coloration is what makes it stand out among other goose species.
The Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) is an elegant bird known for its pristine white plumage. Both male and female Snow Geese exhibit this striking white coloration, which sets them apart from other goose species.
These beautiful birds can be found in various habitats, including wetlands, marshes, and agricultural fields.
Their distribution range spans across North America, with many Snow Geese undertaking long migrations each year.
In California, these magnificent birds can be spotted during the winter months, particularly in large water bodies.
Witnessing the sight of these graceful Snow Geese in Californiais a true spectacle for nature enthusiasts and bird lovers alike.
9 – Great Blue Heron (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Great Blue Heron (White Morph)
- A large bird, standing at an impressive height of around 4 to 5 feet, makes it one of the tallest wading birds in North America.
- Bill and legs: This majestic heron features a long, dagger-like bill that is yellow in color. Its legs are also yellow, complementing its overall appearance.
- Plumage: The Great Blue Heron (White Morph) exhibits a striking all-white plumage, which is different from the typical blue-gray coloration of its more commonly seen counterpart.
- The white feathers give this bird a unique and eye-catching appearance.
The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is a captivating variation of the familiar Great Blue Heron, distinguished by its stunning all-white plumage.
Both male and female individuals of this morph exhibit the remarkable white coloration, which sets them apart from their counterparts with the usual blue-gray feathers.
These majestic herons can be found in a variety of habitats, including marshes, wetlands, and coastal areas.
While they are not as commonly seen as the typical Great Blue Herons, the White Morph can occasionally be spotted in California throughout the state during the winter months.
Witnessing the elegance of these beautiful birds is a true delight for bird enthusiasts exploring the California wilderness.
10 – Ross’s Goose (White Morph)
Quick ID guide for Ross’s Goose (White Morph)
- A small bird, measuring about 20 to 25 inches in length, makes it one of the smallest goose species.
- Bill and legs: This goose species features a short, stubby pinkish bill and pink legs, giving it a delicate and charming appearance.
- Plumage: The Ross’s Goose (White Morph) is predominantly white in color, with no significant markings or patterns.
- Its snowy-white plumage is a defining characteristic, distinguishing it from other goose species.
The Ross’s Goose (Anser rossii) is a charming and attractive bird known for its beautiful snowy-white plumage. Both male and female Ross’s Geese exhibit this distinct white coloration, making them easily distinguishable from other goose species.
These delightful birds can be found in a variety of habitats, including wetlands, marshes, and agricultural fields.
They have a wide distribution range across North America, with many Ross’s Geese migrating long distances each year.
In California, these wonderful birds can be observed during the winter months, particularly in large water bodies and agricultural fields.
Witnessing the grace and elegance of the Ross’s Goose in California is a special treat for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike.
11 – American Avocet
Quick ID guide for American Avocet
- A medium-sized wading bird, measuring approximately 16 to 20 inches in length.
- Bill and legs: This bird is known for its long, slender, upward-curved bill, which is black in color. Its legs are also long and gray.
- Plumage: During the non-breeding season, the American Avocet exhibits a distinctive black and white plumage.
- Its head, neck, and back are predominantly black, while the underparts and wings are white.
- The black plumage extends up to the top of the head, creating a striking contrast with the white body. The back feathers have a unique scaly appearance.
The American Avocet, in its non-breeding plumage, is a captivating wading bird that graces our wetlands and coastal areas. This medium-sized bird stands out with its striking black and white coloration.
Its head, neck, and back are adorned in glossy black feathers, while its underparts and wings shimmer in pure white. Both male and female American Avocets display this eye-catching plumage, making them easily identifiable.
These elegant birds can be found in a variety of wetland habitats, including salt pans, mudflats, and shallow marshes.
In California, they are commonly seen during the winter months, particularly along the coast, adding a touch of elegance to the coastal scenery.
The American Avocet gracefully forages for its preferred diet of aquatic invertebrates, utilizing its long, slender, upward-curved bill to sweep through the water and capture its prey.
Witnessing the beauty and grace of the American Avocet is a delightful experience for bird enthusiasts exploring the California wetlands.
12 – Snow Bunting
Quick ID guide for Snow Bunting
- A small songbird, measuring about 6 to 7 inches in length, is comparable in size to a sparrow.
- Bill and legs: This bird has a short, stout bill, which is mostly black in color. Its legs are also black.
- Males have mostly white body with black wings and a black back.
- Females and non-breeding individuals have more brown or grayish-brown feathers, with some white on their undersides.
- In winter, both sexes display predominantly white plumage to blend with their snowy surroundings.
The Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is a charming and distinctive bird that brings a touch of winter magic to our surroundings. With a compact body, this small songbird measures around 6 to 7 inches in length, similar in size to a sparrow.
The plumage of the Snow Bunting changes with the seasons. During the breeding season, males showcase a striking contrast of mostly white feathers with black wings and a black back.
Females and non-breeding individuals have a more subdued appearance, with brown or grayish-brown feathers and white undersides.
In winter, both sexes don a predominantly white plumage to blend with the snowy landscape. These resilient birds can be found in open, snowy habitats such as fields, tundra, and coastlines.
While they are not common residents in California, Snow Buntings may make occasional appearances in San Francisco, King Range National Conservation Area, and few other locations along the coast during winter months.
This bird is offering a delightful sighting for birdwatchers in the region.
13 – Ring-billed Gull
Quick ID guide for Ring-billed Gull
- Body size: The Ring-billed Gull is a medium-sized gull, measuring about 17 to 21 inches in length with a wingspan of approximately 3.3 to 4.3 feet.
- Bill and legs: It features a distinctive yellow bill with a black ring near the tip, which gives the species its name. The legs are also yellow.
- Plumage: The Ring-billed Gull displays a white body with gray wings and back. During the breeding season, adults develop a dark gray mantle and a black band around their bill. Juveniles have a mottled brown plumage that gradually lightens as they mature, eventually resembling the adult plumage.
The Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis) is a familiar and easily recognizable bird found in various parts of North America, including the state of California.
These medium-sized gulls exhibit a classic white plumage that is shared by both males and females. What sets them apart is their distinct features, such as the yellow bill with a black ring near the tip and yellow legs.
They can be observed throughout California during different periods of the year, as they are both resident and migratory birds.
Ring-billed Gulls are adaptable and can be seen in a range of habitats, including coastal areas, lakes, and even urban environments. Their diet consists of a varied menu, comprising fish, insects, and scavenged food.
So, keep an eye out for these charismatic gulls during your California bird watching adventures.
14 – White-Tailed Kite
Quick ID guide for White-Tailed Kite
- Body size: The White-Tailed Kite is a medium-sized raptor, measuring approximately 14 to 17 inches in length.
- Bill and legs: It possesses a distinctive long and slender bill, typically gray in color. The legs are also long and slender, often pale or grayish.
- Plumage: The White-Tailed Kite showcases a striking and unmistakable plumage. Its head, neck, and underparts are predominantly white, while the upperparts, including the back and wings, are a beautiful gray color.
- The tail stands out with its white color, contrasting with the rest of the body. The combination of white and gray feathers makes this kite a remarkable sight in the sky.
The White-Tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) is a captivating raptor that graces the skies with its graceful flight and distinctive appearance. This medium-sized bird displays a beautiful combination of white and gray plumage, making it easily recognizable.
Both male and female White-Tailed Kites exhibit white plumage on their head, neck, and underparts, creating a striking contrast with the gray coloration on their upperparts and wings.
This unique color pattern sets them apart from other birds of prey. These kites are commonly found in open habitats such as grasslands, marshes, and agricultural areas.
In California, they can be spotted year-round, in most parts of the state. Their hunting prowess is impressive, as they specialize in capturing small mammals, rodents, and even insects.
Observing the White-Tailed Kite in flight is a true spectacle for bird enthusiasts exploring the California landscapes.
15 – Rock Pigeon (White morph)
Quick ID guide for Rock Pigeon
- Body Size: The Rock Pigeon (White Morph) is a medium-sized bird, typically measuring around 12 to 14 inches in length.
- Bill: It has a relatively small bill, which is typically a pale or light color.
- Plumage, Bill, and Legs Colors: The plumage of the Rock Pigeon (White Morph) is predominantly white, including the feathers, bill, and legs.
- However, it may have subtle variations in shades, with some individuals displaying slight hints of gray or other pale colors.
The Rock Pigeon (Columba livia), a variant of the common Rock Pigeon, exhibits a distinctive appearance. With predominantly white plumage, both male and female individuals showcase this striking coloration.
This bird is adaptable and thrives in various habitats, including urban areas, parks, and cliffs. Rock Pigeons have a diverse diet, feeding on seeds, grains, and scraps.
In California, these pigeons can be observed year-round due to their widespread presence across the state. Whether in bustling cities or serene countryside, keep an eye out for these birds soaring through the Californian skies.
However, keep in mind that the white morph is not the most common color morph of rock pigeons, though you can spot it if one is present in the flock.
Let’s start exploring!
California’s diverse landscapes provide a haven for an array of stunning white birds.
We hope this ID guide has expanded your knowledge and appreciation for these avian wonders. And, you can refer ebird for up-to-date sighting data of these listed white birds.
From the graceful Snowy Egret to the majestic Tundra Swan, each species offers a unique charm worth exploring.
Have you ever encountered any of these amazing white birds in California? We’d love to hear about your experiences and sightings! Share your stories in the comment section below.
You may also like to read: