Birdwatching in Los Angeles

By David Lindo

Los Angeles is the City of Angels. Perhaps surprisingly for some, it is also a city of birds. If you were to take a stroll in West Hollywood you will quickly begin to see the plentiful American Crows, Ravens and Western Gulls swooping over the streets. As well as the common Mourning Doves you may be lucky and catch sight of the much shyer Band-tailed Pigeon that has the jizz of a slim Wood Pigeon.

At Franklin Canyon, one of my birding stomping grounds in the Hollywood Hills, you should easily see Red-tailed Hawks circling overhead and the occasional Cooper’s Hawk. Western Scrub Jays are common in the wooded areas along with roving parties of Bush Tits that remind me of tiny brown Long-tailed Tits.

Pied-billed Grebes, Wood Ducks, the obligatory Mallards, both Green and Blue Herons are fairly easily found on the reservoir, whilst in the summer, chattering parties of Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows congregate on the nearby telegraph wires. In the winter, it’s an excellent spot for flocks of Cedar Waxwings.

Another area to check out is Kenneth Hahn State Recreational Area in the Baldwins Hills. An early morning summer visit will reward you with Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds, Lesser Goldfinches, Say’s and Black Phoebes. Check the grassland areas in the autumn and winter for roving American Robins.

On a couple of occasions I have come across the regionally scarce Western Kingbird and the nationally rare Loggerhead Shrike – a bird that looks like a smallish Great Grey Shrike.

peaking of rarities, if you want to stand a better chance of finding something interesting, especially during the autumn migration, there are several places to discover. Perhaps the most well known among the LA birders is Harbor Park, a coastal park with a relatively large lake surrounded by reedbeds and municipal parkland.

Aside from egrets and several heron species, including Night Herons, you should also come across some interesting ducks, including Cinnamon Teal, and skulking Marsh Wrens in the reeds. If you visit on a good Fall day, the scattered trees are alive with migrants, particularly with American wood warblers, and occasionally they can be accompanied by east coast stragglers like Black-and-White Warblers.

My favourite LA birding location, however, is the Ballona Wetlands where the birdlife can sometimes be incredible. On the saltwater and freshwater marshes, depending on the season, you can sometimes get brilliant views of the visiting waders. I’ve seen both Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Western and Least Sandpipers at ridiculously close range. You can also see resting Ring-billed Gulls sitting side-by-side with Brown Pelicans.

The adjacent beach is usually coated with mixed gull and tern flocks with Royal and Elegant Terns rubbing shoulders with Western, Californian, American Herring, Hermann’s and Western Gulls. During the winter Glaucous-winged and Bonaparte’s Gulls arrive and on the sea are many Western Grebes and Surf Scoters.

So, as you can see, there’s more to West Hollywood than the glamorous veneer that first meets the eye. Almost any semi-wild area will produce a gem that you were not expecting.