Santa Monica, California, lies just 15 miles west of Los Angeles, yet the seaside city’s diverse ecosystems support more than 5,000 plant and animal species. To the north lies the world’s largest urban national park, the 154,095-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. To the delight of bird-watchers, more than 380 bird species -- almost half the total number of avian species in North America -- migrate through, breed in or reside in the woodlands, coastal sage scrub, brackish water marshes and coastal sand dunes of the Santa Monica Bay watershed.
Aquatic Birds, Shorebirds and Seabirds
Santa Monica's coastal shore and inland wetlands support a diverse assortment of aquatic birds, including loons, grebes, cormorants, herons, the white-faced ibis, and 30 species of ducks and geese. The area’s warm climate and positioning on the Pacific Flyway -- a major bird migration corridor -- attract many shorebirds, including the red knot, Wilson's phalarope and lesser yellowlegs. The endangered light-footed clapper rail breeds along Santa Monica’s marshy wetlands, and the threatened Western snowy plover uses the area’s sandy beaches for breeding. Numerous species of seabirds – most notably terns, gulls, shearwaters and storm petrels – inhabit sites along Santa Monica Bay. All but shearwaters breed in the area.
Raptors and Goatsuckers
Santa Monica's population of raptors, or birds of prey, includes both nocturnal hunters and diurnal hunters – those that pursue prey during the day. The area’s five species of owls fall into the first category, while kites, hawks, eagles and falcons make up the diurnal faction. Raptor species common to Santa Monica include the barn owl, great-horned owl, long-eared owl, western screech owl, Cooper's hawk, red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, the American kestrel and the white-tailed kite, a small hawk that hunts primarily from the air. Less common are the peregrine falcon and the golden eagle. The Swainson's hawk, which California lists as a threatened species, has been recorded in the area. Santa Monica’s nightjars, or goatsuckers – so-called from the false belief that the birds suckle goats -- include both the lesser and common nighthawk and the common poorwill.
Passerines, Hummingbirds and Swifts
Nearly half the birds present in the Santa Monica watershed are passerines, or songbirds. The region boasts species from an impressive range of families: vireos, swallows, wrens, tyrant flycatchers, warblers and tanagers, finches, buntings, grosbeaks and sparrows. Many migrate through the area, while others reside and breed there. The Santa Monica area also supports five species of hummingbirds and four species of swifts; both families are in the order Apodiformes.
Cuckoos, Woodpeckers, Kingfishers and Parrots
Santa Monica hosts populations of eight species of woodpeckers, including the downy woodpecker and northern flicker. The greater roadrunner, a member of the cuckoo family, resides in the grassland, chaparral and coastal sage scrub of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa on the western edge of the Santa Monica Mountains. The belted kingfisher is a fishing-eating bird that you'll often find high above sheltered waters. Six introduced species of parakeets and parrots make their home around Santa Monica, the product of escaped or released pets. These non-native species may compete with native birds for nesting habitat.
Game Birds, Pigeons and Doves
Santa Monica's game bird species include two non-native species: the common peafowl, or peacock, and the ring-necked pheasant, a native of Asia and a popular target of hunters. The mountain quail and California quail are the only upland game bird species native to Santa Monica. A distinguishing characteristic of the mountain quail is its thin, straight head plume. Bird-watchers report six species of pigeons and doves in Santa Monica, half of them non-native species. The three natives species are the band-tailed pigeon, white-winged dove and mourning dove.
- National Park Service: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area -- Birds
- National Park Service: Bird Checklist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- National Park Service: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area -- Raptors
- "Bulletin of the Southern California Academy of Sciences"; Seabird Observations During Cetacean Surveys in Santa Monica Bay ...; Maddalena Bearzi, et al.; 2009
- National Park Service: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area -- Birding Contacts
- National Park Service: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area -- Birding Sites ...
- National Park Service: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area -- Monthly Bird Walks
- Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society: The Official SMBAS Online Newsletter
- California Department of Fish and Game: Threatened and Endangered Birds
- "The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America"; David Allen Sibley; 2003
About the Author
Barbara Cozzens has been writing for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in publications of the Nature Conservancy, the World Bank Group, National Geographic Society, Duke University and others. Cozzens holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology from Colgate University and a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.