A vast, varied state with several different climates and landscapes, it is no surprise that California has a wealth of different species of animals and birds.
Alongside regular species, California boasts an impressive range of raptors, birds of prey who play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystems in which they live.
Here is our list for our top five favorites!
1. California Condor
A large bird with an enormous wingspan of up to 9 feet (2.7 meters), the California condor has a blackish-brown body with white underparts, and a long tail which may be cocked at rest. It can weigh as much as 20 pounds (9 kilograms).
The adult male’s head is dark brown with a red crest on its forehead, while the female’s head is more yellowish. Its legs and talons are orange or reddish-orange.
California condors were once found throughout most of North America but today they live only in Arizona, New Mexico, southern Texas and Baja California. They are now considered endangered by the IUCN.
They prefer dry open country with scattered trees and shrubs, such as deserts, chaparral, grasslands, and semi-deserts, and in California, are most common in the Transverse Ranges east of San Diego County, as well as the Pacific Coast of Northern Baja.
They eat mostly carrion, especially dead animals killed by other predators. In captivity, they will also eat meat from livestock carcasses.
2. Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine falcons are medium-sized birds of prey, with a total length of around 12 inches (30 centimeters) and weighing between 1.5 and 2.0 ounces (40–60 grams).
Their plumage is generally grayish-white with darker streaks and spots. They have a short rounded tail, and long pointed wings. Both sexes have similar plumage.
The peregrine falcon is one of the fastest soaring birds. It hunts by diving down from high altitudes, catching its prey in midair.
These birds hunt over open areas, and they need a fairly unobstructed view of their prey, which is why they tend to favor urban areas where there are lots of windows.
Typically though, these birds build nests in rocky crags or cliff faces, and their diet typically includes small mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects.
3. Great Gray Owl
Great gray owls are medium-sized, with a total length ranging from 13 to 15 inches (33 to 38 cm) and a weight of 0.8 to 1.6 lb (0.4 to 0.7 kg). Adults have a dark brown back, light buffy underparts, and a pale underside. They have a broad, rounded wing shape and a relatively short tail.
The eyes are set far apart on either side of the face, giving the owl a wide-eyed appearance.
This helps it see well when hunting at night.
The great gray owl is nocturnal, spending the day sleeping in hollowed logs or tree cavities.
During the winter months, it spends time in burrows dug by prairie dogs, badgers, ground squirrels, or other rodents.
Great gray owls require large tracts of forest, preferably containing mature trees that provide nesting sites and food sources.
They can be found in most forms of woodland, and as such, Great gray owls live throughout most of Canada, Alaska, and the contiguous United States.
Great gray owls mainly eat mice, rats, shrews, bats, frogs, snakes, lizards, and occasionally birds.
Whilst they cannot fly until about 10 days old, they grow rapidly, reaching full size within two weeks.
In captivity, great gray owls live up to 20 years, but in the wild, however, some individuals have been known to reach 30 years of age.
4. Northern Goshawk
Northern goshawks are medium-sized hawks, with an upward length of 24 inches in males, and 26 inches in females.
They have a blackish-brown upper surface, with a whitish belly and undertail coverts. There is a distinctive red eye ring, which gives them their name. The legs are yellowish-orange.
These birds prefer open country, such as grasslands, marshes, meadows, and agricultural areas. They often hunt over water.
As such, Northern goshawks have a varied diet, feeding primarily on small mammals, including rabbits, hares, voles, and chipmunks.
They will also take insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and carrion.
The northern goshawk occurs from southern Ontario south through the eastern half of North America, west to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and California.
5. California Spotted Owl
Spotted owls are medium-sized owls with short rounded wings. Their plumage is light brown above and dark gray below.
They lack ear tufts, and have a broad, flat face.
Their eyes are set far back on the sides of their heads, giving them a fox-like appearance.
Their feet are feathered, making it difficult for them to walk upright. They can run quickly, though.
Spotted owls eat mostly mice, rats, squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs, beavers, muskrats, moles, shrews, bats, frogs, snakes, lizards, and other small animals.
Owls are nocturnal predators that spend much of the day sleeping, and their nest sites are found in coniferous forests, where they build a cup made of tree bark, moss, and wood shavings.
Spotted owls live in temperate regions across North America. They prefer deciduous forest or mixed woodland habitats, such as oak savannas, riparian zones, and shrubby wetlands.
The spotted owl lives in western Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (in Chisos Mountains), California (in Sierra National Forest), and British Columbia.
As you can see, California hosts a wealth of different species of raptor, from owls, to falcons, and hawks, all with different practices, habitats, and diets.
So the next time you find yourself in rural California, enjoying the temperate sea air, and the warm desert heat, keep an eye out for some of our favorite feathered friends you just might meet along the way.