Birds are a real attraction at the San Lorenzo River during any time of year. An estimated 122 bird species frequent the river, and its lower stretch is considered a birding “hotspot” in Santa Cruz. While spring and fall are often thought to be prime seasons for birding, plenty of species can be spotted during the winter months too! Ducks, hawks, wading birds, and sparrows are just some of the feathered river residents you may find making use of the river between December and February. 

A year ago, CWC worked with one of our long-time regular volunteers named Lion to document the bird species found along our habitat restoration site, which is the stretch of the San Lorenzo River between the Soquel Ave and Laurel Street bridges. Lion is a recognized expert who has also conducted surveys for organizations like the San Mateo County Parks Department. He recorded his San Lorenzo observations between December 2022 and February 2023. In total, he spotted 41 species near the river (shown in the table at the end of this post), and of these, 29 species were observed physically in the river or the CWC’s habitat enhancement site itself. 

Merlin hunting a songbird in San Lorenzo Park – November 2023

Mallard Ducks and American Crows were the most numerous species, and ducks were the most abundant group, which in addition to Mallards included plenty of Buffleheads (shown in the top photo), Common Goldeneyes, and Common Mergansers in the mix. One unique species spotted was a merlin, which local photographer Arthur “Mac” Macmillan also documented this winter in San Lorenzo Park. This small but fierce falcon is known to hunt songbirds, and is somewhat elusive, so catching a glimpse of one is a treat. Blackbirds can also be found at the river, and one unconfirmed observation was of either a Red-winged or Tricolored Blackbird. The Tricolored Blackbird is an endangered species, so we are particularly keen to hear about any sightings on the San Lorenzo – if you see one, let us know! 

Knowing which bird species are present along this stretch of river helps us decide which vegetation species to plant and how to manage habitat restoration at the site. We hope to be able to conduct more formal bird surveys along the river in the future! In the meantime, we invite you to use the list below as your own winter birding checklist, and hope you’ll come visit the San Lorenzo River all throughout the year to observe our feathered neighbors.  


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