Birds of Baja

With about 400 different species of birds, Baja California has plenty to offer bird enthusiasts or the more backyard birder. Though many birds populate the peninsula, only six are endemic:  San Lucas Robin, Cape Pygmy Owl, Belding's Yellowthroat, Gray Thrasher, Baird's Junco, and Xantus's Hummingbird. You can spot most of the endemics and other of Baja’s best birds at the San Jose del Cabo estuary, a 2,000 acre lagoon on the tip of the peninsula where birds flock—and other animals walk— to the fresh water.

 

Golden Eagle

GOLDEN EAGLE

The Golden Eagles are large raptors, 30-40 inches, and only slightly smaller than its Bald Eagle counterpart. If viewed from the front, its name might be conceived of as a misnomer with its dark brown body and dull yellow legs and beak. But, from the back you can spot a golden wash at the back of its head and neck. They enjoy different hunting techniques, so you can often see them soaring on their long wings held flat against the wind or perching in trees to observe the activity below.

Cape Pygmy Owl

CAPE PYGMY OWL

Also known as the Baja Pygmy Owl, this small owl only reaches 6-7 inches in height. They have light gray-brown plumes that tend to be more reddish on the females with a longer tale than many other pygmy owls. Endemic to Baja, this owl enjoys the inland pine and oak woods of Sierra Victoria and Sierra de la Giganta mountains of lower Baja California Sur. This subspecies of pygmy owl remains somewhat mysterious as there is some debate as to its relation to the Northern Pygmy Owl and its habitats and breeding habits are largely unexplored.

 

Xantus's Hummingbird

XANTUSS HUMMINGBIRD

These green hummingbirds are easy to recognize with the distinct white stripes that extend down from their eyes. With its rusty cinnamon underbellies and red bill, Xantus’s hummingbird is a pretty sight. Like other hummingbirds, Xantux’s own feed on nectar by employing their long tongue or snatching passing insects out of the air. While they are endemic to Baja, they have vagrancy habits and have been known to migrate as far north as North Columbia.

Baird's Junco

BAIRDS JUNCO

Baird’s Junco is a rarely seen endemic bird that enjoys the higher elevation of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains. Physically, Baird’s Junco resembles the Yellow-eyed Junco and can be identified by the stunning bright yellow eyes that stand out against the soft grey of their head feathers. Although their populations are isolated, they are known for not being skittish once you spot them.

Frigatebird

FRIGATEBIRD

Frigatebirds go by many names, such as the frigate pelican, pirate bird, and man of war bird. Frigatebirds are large seabirds related to pelicans who have a wingspan reaching over two meters—the largest wingspan of a bird when taking in the body to weight ratio. As such, they are uniquely adapted to being a sea bird as they are known to fly through the air without rest for nearly a week. However, their grace does not extend to the land as they cannot swim and are clumsy walkers. From the air, they swoop in to eat fish and squid who near the water’s surface.

Their coloring is distinctive as they are predominately black. However, females have white underbellies and males have a large red gular pouch (or throat sac) which they can puff up when mating.

 FUN FACT:

Perhaps frigatebirds received their moniker as pirate birds from their kleptomaniac tendencies. These birds are classified kleptoparasites who are known to rob other seabirds for their food.

Cormorant

CORMORANT

In Baja, you’ll likely find Brandt’s Cormorant as well as the Double-crested Cormorant. The Double-crested Cormorant is also a seabird with iridescent black plumage and an orange throat pouch. In early summer, you can see white tufts of feathers rising over each eye like inquisitive eyebrows. In contrast, Brandt’s Cormorants have duller black feathers and a bright blue throat pouch that is bordered with yellow.

These seabirds are adapted to marine feeding. With non-waterproof feathers that reduce buoyancy and webbed feet that allow them to propel themselves further underwater in search for fish closer to the bottom, they well-equipped for their coastal water habitat.