Brief Species Guide

As I walk through my sites, I often get asked by workers, "Hey, what's this bird called" and get confused for a Wildlife Biologist. And while I wish I had a complete Avian dictionary photocopied in my head, I'm just a regular google-searching person ;)

As a Stormwater Inspector, I respect wildlife and the environment and enjoy being able to do my part to protect the environment. This blog post was really fun to write because I actually think that many people might find this guide helpful. And, talking about some endangered species (and how cool they are) might help me do my part to be a part of the solution.

Read on to learn about some species that you may encounter on-site as well as some of my favorite rare Native California Species.

P.S. Thanks to the people who inspired this post! I love the nature, wildlife, and science questions. It shows that people really do care!


Avian Science is a really important and serious study. Birds are important for a healthy ecosystem. They assist bees with pollinating plants, spreading seeds and nutrients, and breaking down carcasses. Birds are present in most habitats, which means that scientists can use their data to figure out how healthy an ecosystem is, AKA an Indicator Species.

For example, more Eagles nesting in the Trinity Mountains is a sign that the ecosystem is thriving. This is really helpful to identify locations that we should continue to protect and guide us to learn about which areas we need to restore.

California Scrub-Jay

This permanent resident doesn't typically migrate and consumes insects, spiders, snails, moth caterpillars, seeds, nuts, berries. Some eat rodents, small reptiles, frogs, eggs, and other birds. When they breed they typically breed in pairs for the year.

Allen's Hummingbird

These birds feed on flower nectar and eat small insects. They are migratory and fly as far south as Southern Mexico, and return to California in the late winter. Unfortunately, this beautiful bird is likely to lose up to 90% of suitable habitat by 2050 to climate change.

Northern Flicker

This is a kind of Woodpecker! They spend much of their time both on the ground and in trees. They catch insects, eat fruits, berries, and lots of ants.

House Finch

You might've seen this one on a bird feeder! They're super cute and found in urban areas. In our part of the US, you can also find them in their native habitats. They eat seeds, buds, and berries.

White-Crowned Sparrow

These lil' guys eat seeds and insects. You'll mainly see them in the Wintertime in the valley. Some might stay in the area permanently.

Northern Mockingbird

These used to be sold as pets, and when that happened their population in the wild dropped. But, the good news is that the population is looking healthier now! You can find these in towns, farms, and brushy areas. They will 'mock' other birds and copy their song. Have you heard a bird that sounds like a car alarm? This might be the culprit!

Western Grebe

Growing up, I would call these Diver Ducks, and we'd be on the lake and see a large group of them in the deep water. They'd dive in the blink of an eye and be underwater for what seemed like minutes. They used to be killed for their feathers, but they are making a come back in their populations. We see them in freshwater lakes in California often, but they can also be found in sloughs, bays, and oceans. They mainly feed on... FISH, what a surprise!

Burrowing Owl

I was personally surprised to learn that we have Burrowing Owls in the Central Valley. I've seen some burrows in a bioretention pond here in town. It's a small owl, less than 10 inches tall. Unfortunately, these have not been doing so well, as they succumb to ground squirrel control and habitat loss. Hopefully, we can work together to help their populations return to healthier numbers!

Yellow Warbler

Ever think that you'd see a YELLOW bird that's not in a tropical rainforest? I'm telling you, we have some really cool species here! Their populations are pretty healthy. They eat mainly insects.

Red-tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk is commonly listed in our SWPPPs (for what reason?). Their population is stable and is healthy. They eat small mammals, other birds, and reptiles. They perch up high and look for prey. With a wingspan of 3 to 4-feet, it's a pretty large bird.

California Condor

Here's a pretty incredible bird. It's got a 9 to 10-foot wingspan (that'd scare the crap out of me to see in real life). They can live up to 60 years, and consume a carnivorous diet. Unfortunately, these species are critically endangered. They are scavengers, which is a very important aspect, these kinds of species are critical in a food web as they bring the nutrients from dead animals back into the food chain.

For more information on California Condors, click here.

For more information on the importance of Scavengers, click here.

Golden Eagle

One look at this bird, and you can see the power and intensity of this animal. They have a 7 to 7.5-foot wingspan and live about 30 years. You are more likely to see these in mountainous areas. The good news is that their population seems to be pretty healthy, but keep in mind that they may suffer from habitat loss. Fun fact - they are likely to have one mate for life.

Great Blue Heron

I see this species all of the time on my route in the Bay area. You can find them in marshes and shorelines. They are very adaptable in various environments. Eats all kinds of bugs, amphibians, and reptiles.


While seemingly simple and uninteresting, plants have a lot of qualities that make them completely fascinating. While humans can walk around and go to the store to buy food when they're hungry and put on a sweater when they're cold, plants have to stay put wherever they are grounded and acquire all of their food from the sun and soil. They cannot move large distances to access better soil or move underneath a shelter when it's pouring down rain.

Plants have adapted to live in various conditions and have come up with some interesting ways to cope with the environment that they're given. Pretty tough if you ask me. And they turn air (sunshine) into food? Mad respect. Read on for a couple of species that you may not have heard of.


The Redwoods are a more familiar plant that garners a lot of respect. While technically a tree, this species lives on the West Coast and can grow up to 350-feet tall (that's taller than some skyscrapers). The thickness or diameter of the tree can grow to be about 25 feet, imagine four 6-foot people laying down in a line.

California Pitcher Plant (AKA Cobra Lily)

Did you know that California has native carnivorous plants? This one, in particular, is something of a nightmare. The trap works something like this - a fly is hungry and sees a cobra lily with nectar, so the fly lands on the flower and walks inside to the pitcher of the plant.

But, as the fly walks in further into the flower, downward-pointing spines force the fly to move in one direction, towards the back of the flower and deeper into the pitcher. The fly gets stuck in sticky liquid and gets tranquilized by toxic substances stored in the pitcher of the flower. Over time, the fly is slowly digested by enzymes.

These can be found in very clean, nutrient-depleted areas. They adapted to live in low nutrient environments by evolving to eat insects. They are native to some northern regions of California and along the Oregon coast. If you get lucky, you'll see a whole meadow of them.

Silver Lupine

I've seen several of these on job sites along with the poppies. They are a purple perennial flower that is native to California and Oregon. Interestingly, they are a type of legume, and therefore have special nodules on their roots that help put nitrogen into the soil. Nitrogen is an important chemical that is in balanced proportions in healthy soils. So, it can help replenish your soil and make it healthier!

Bugs & Crustaceans

I am not a bug expert or have much insight here, but I do know of some species that we should know about. Bugs are really critical components of our ecosystems (pretty much everything has a purpose in our ecosystems), providing food for a variety of species, pollinating our food, and helping break down dead materials or even waste products.

Sweat Bee

Bees are SO IMPORTANT for the world. Their populations are threatened, and unfortunately, if they don't thrive we don't either. They are so crucial to our food supply. Why? If you look closely at the Sweat bee above, it's covered in what looks like yellow fuzz. This fuzz is actually pollen from plants and flowers. What this bee is doing is moving pollen from flower to flower and allowing the plants to then fertilize and produce fruits, vegetables, beans, rice, and legumes (to name a few). Bees have fallen victim to habitat loss, insecticides, and other toxic chemicals. It's a scary situation.

The Sweat bee is one of many species that are native to California. They're nonaggressive and actually might want to land on your skin (sorry to freak you out) to drink some of your sweat. They can sting, though. These bees nest in the ground, digging vertical tunnels into the earth to lay their eggs. You can sometimes find them in your yard or garden in sparsely covered soil that has full sun. Be careful when walking around in these kinds of areas so that you don't damage their nests!

To learn more about protecting our bee populations, click here.

For information on how to plant a bee garden, click here.

Mud Dauber

This scary-looking wasp has come to be one of my favorites. I remember seeing them as a kid with their mud nests built underneath the seats of my grandparent's patio boat. But, I have not seen a nest in a very long time. They're actually not aggressive, and just look scary. They build their nests out of mud.

Don't like spiders? Well, the Mud Dauber is your new best friend. They eat spiders and even black widows. They are beneficial, so please don't remove their nests. One downside is that more aggressive wasps can take over their mud nests, so if you see a nest be careful since a hornet could've taken it over.


This may be a surprise, but we have native Tarantula's in California. They're nonaggressive and aren't poisonous to us. Females can live up to 25 years (sorry males only live 7-8 years). They don't really come out during the day, but sometimes you can see them during the daytime. You can find them in the rolling hills of the East Bay and Southern California, the Sierra Nevada foothills, and the deserts of California.

Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp

You've more than likely come across these in a SWPPP or Environmental permits. We often see entire portions of a project blocked off when vernal pools are present to protect the fairy shrimp. What's so important about these crustacea?

They are a threatened species that is an important food source for birds. They live in seasonal cool-water ponds that don't contain other fish and have a short life cycle to reproduce before the pond dries up. Since their habitat is threatened due to human encroachment, these shrimp have declined in population. Maintaining this healthy food source is important to keep bird populations strong.


We have some pretty neat mammals in California. For this section, I tried to choose some that we may see on-site since there are so many that I could list out. And, since you're likely seen an opossum and mouse, I thought I would go with two bigger animals that are exciting to see.

Mountain Lion

Again, so weird to think that growing up I was so excited to learn about lions and tigers, and thought that they would only live in places on the other side of the world. Come to learn as I got older than we have our own big cats that live right in California. I've seen two in my life, one time was camping in the middle of the night, and the other was on a job site while I was driving through the project.

The California Mountain Lion (AKA puma, cougar, or panther) is not listed as threatened or endangered, but it appears that may be a controversial statement. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says that they actually are in stable numbers. Most of California is actually perfect habitat for them. They can be found in the mountains and foothills. Mountain lions can weigh about 120-200 pounds.

California Mule Deer

The California Mule Deer are pretty common in the hills and mountains. They mostly eat plants and some flower buds, bark, and even acorns. Something I didn't know is that they can migrate long distances. Some groups in Inyo and Mono counties make year-long round trip migrations.

Tule Elk

I know I said I was only going to post two different mammal species, but I came across another mammal that I can't forget to include. This is a Tule Elk. It is one of two native species of Elk in California, and Tule Elk, in particular, are only found in California (we refer to this as an Endemic species).

There was a time when it was believed that these Elk were completely extinct. But fortunately, a cattle rancher named Henry Miller kept a small herd of about 30 elk on his ranch as a conservation effort in the late 1800s. Because of his work, we now have approximately 5700 Tule Elk in California, otherwise, the Tule Elk would likely be extinct.


Silent and graceful, these California fish are SO important for the vitality of our wildlife. I have to talk a little bit about salmon and thought I would also throw in some information about some ocean fish as well. So read on to learn about some California freshwater and saltwater fishes.


Our salmon populations are nearly extinct. It's crazy to think that 60 years ago there was an incredible abundance of salmon. There are many species in California, but the 3 most talked-about are Coho, Chinook, and Steelhead Salmon. So why are they going extinct?

  • As adult salmon swim inland they're encountering warmer waters than what they can spawn in

  • The waterways in which they need to lay eggs are not as clean as they need to be for proper development

  • Altered streams and rivers don't offer as much natural opportunity for protection for baby salmon

  • Many California Estuaries and floodplains aren't healthy enough to provide a place to grow for young salmon before they head out to sea

Their population decline is a strong indication that our waterways in California are not healthy. We have a lot of work to do to keep our waterways strong, and measuring populations of salmon is one way to tell if we are doing a better job.

To read more about what we can do to strengthen salmon populations, click here.

For some good news on the Salmon Restoration project, click here.

Pacific Lamprey

Lamprey are a little bit freaky, but they, of course, have ecological importance. They are a very fat-dense food source and can help protect salmon from being eaten. Their populations have been declining which can mean that wildlife may turn from eating pacific lamprey to salmon. They look like an eel and don't have jaws. One of the oldest kinds of fish, the lamprey is parasitic and eats other fish by clinging to them, kind of like a leach.

California Scorpionfish (Sculpin)

It was really tough to find a good (free) picture of a California Scorpionfish. I strongly recommend that you search this fish up in google because it is WICKED. And no, I'm not talking about the beer. These saltwater fish live in shallow rocks along the coast. They have poisonous spines so be really careful when handling them!

California Halibut

These fish live in the ocean and are flat! They have two eyes on the same side of their body. Since there are many sustainability and health concerns among various fisheries, it's a good thing to note that this species has been listed as "Best Choice" on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Food Watch when caught in California using trolling lines.

To search up seafood and see if it's a good food choice, click here.


These are Rick's FAVORITE! We were in Mexico years ago when a huge Iguana got startled and ran across the seating across we chillaxing at, but it went straight for Rick's chair and he spilled his drink all over some Canadian's next to him.

Reptiles and amphibians can be so stinkin' cute. And, for all of you that aren't fans of reptiles, yes, they serve ecological importance. They help keep populations of other species healthy, in a similar way to how sharks help improve fishery health. This is a really cool concept - the snakes help control populations of mice and rats, and they help eat the sick and dying animals so that the healthier species breed and create strong offspring that are more resilient. Something I didn't know is that reptiles can also help spread seeds and pollinate.

Giant Garter Snake

I was at a brewery on a Friday night when I saw a friend who is a Wildlife Biologist walking into a building next door holding an ice chest. Turns out he wasn't bringing cold drinks into the building but instead had a giant garter snake inside that needed medical treatment. It was covered in lacerations. He was pretty disappointed because they are pretty rare.

This is a threatened species that lives in California and is likely soon to be listed as endangered. They are not considered dangerous. They can grow to be over 5 feet long (vs. a regular garter snake is about 2 to 3-feet long). They live in the wild in wet areas along a pond, creek, or lake. But, since more of their habitat has been removed, they are now found in agricultural wetlands. Don't worry, they eat small fish and frogs.

California King Snake

These live all throughout California. They will eat rattlesnakes! They're also not venomous to humans. It looks like their populations are healthy.

California Tiger Salamander

Look at that smile! These can grow to 6 to 8-inches long. They live in burrows underground in grasslands and eat things like snails, slugs, and other invertebrates. The California Tiger Salamander is endemic to California. They are listed as endangered, so if you see one leave it alone and make sure to keep some habitat for them!

Well, we've reached the end of this list. There are so many more species that I would like to talk about, from dolphins, sharks, and various whales to the kelp forests and sea urchins let alone all of the cool beetles. It could go on forever.

If you had any questions about the species I mentioned, I likely put an additional resource down below. If you have any lingering questions, put them in the comments! I'd be happy to research any questions for you.

Learned about a new species? Share this post with your friends, coworkers, and family. It's a great way to educate each other. Thank you!

What was your favorite species that you learned about?