Every December, ornithologists descend on San Diego’s lagoons and forests, hoping to set new records in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Counts. However, many other wild species call the region home. From birds and mammals, to amphibians and reptiles, we look the plethora of different species that inhabit San Diego County.
San Diego County is home to more than 500 bird species. From Pacific Ocean tributaries to deserts to mile-high mountains, the region offers a wide variety of habitats for its diverse range of birdlife.
Osprey are commonly spotted throughout San Diego. This fish-eating raptor has a wingspan of up to 72 inches.
According to IUCN, numbers of ring-necked parakeets have gradually increased. These medium-sized parrots are non-native to California. They are a distinctive green color, with characteristic ring-neck colorings in vivid yellow, violet, or blue.
Red-tailed hawks are San Diego’s most commonly-sighted raptors. They have an imposing presence in the skies, with an adult wingspan of more than 4 feet. They typically nest in tall treetops, where they can have views of the surrounding countryside. Their beautiful red tails make them easy to spot above open stretches of desert, or around coastal lagoons.
American bullfrogs are non-native, but today they are commonly spotted around San Diego’s lakes and waterways. They are the largest frog found in the region, with adults measuring up to 8 inches long. This smooth-skinned frog is green, with dark spots and blotches, and is most active through fall and winter.
The Monterey ensatina is common in moist, woodland areas throughout the region. This species of salamander grows up to 6 inches long, including the tail. They are brown in color, with a bright orange underbody, and typically found under logs, rocks, or other debris.
Monterey ensatina are nocturnal. They are sometimes spotted crossing roads on rainy nights. They consume a variety of invertebrates, including worms, snails, centipedes, crickets, and termites.
The Olive Ridley sea turtle is indigenous to California, though the species is rare. Reaching a maximum length of 29 inches, they are the smallest sea turtle species. The shell is green, while the skin is grey.
The Olive Ridley sea turtle is pelagic, which means it inhabits lagoons, bays, shallow waters, and the open ocean. They are mostly carnivorous, subsisting on a diet of crustaceans, crab, fish, sea urchins, jellyfish, snails, and occasional plant material such as seaweed, seagrass, and algae.
Leatherback sea turtles are endemic to both North and South California, with rare sightings reported along the coastline. Leatherback sea turtles are the world’s largest species of turtle, measuring up to 96 inches in length, and weighing up to 1,600 pounds. They eat mostly invertebrates such as crabs, octopi, squid, and snails, as well as small fish.
Skilton’s skink is most commonly found in northern San Diego. It has a slim body, small head, thick neck and small legs, and measures up to 7.5 inches, including the tail. Adults are usually dark brown, with two light stripes either side of the back. Juveniles have dazzling blue tails that fade with age. During the breeding season, adult Skilton’s skinks often develop orange or red coloring on their throat and head.
Coast mountain kingsnakes are indigenous to areas of San Diego, though they are fairly elusive. These nocturnal snakes can be extremely colorful, with red, black, and yellowish or white bands circling the body. Measuring up to 30 inches long, coast mountain kingsnakes are not dangerous to humans. They consume a diet of birds, amphibians, lizards, small mammals, and sometimes other species of snake.
From bats to bighorn, San Diego County is home to a myriad of different warm-blooded species. For example, Stephen’s kangaroo rat is an incredibly rare species that inhabits northwestern San Diego. The medium-sized rodent species has an extremely long tail, measuring almost 1.5 times the length of its body.
Measuring up to 5 inches in length, the grasshopper mouse is endemic to the southern United States. The species is a voracious predator, feeding on insects, spiders, snakes, scorpions, and even other mouse species.
Almost half of California is considered mountain lion territory. Conservationists estimate that California’s population of mountain lions is somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000. Also known as panther, puma, or cougar, mountain lions typically inhabit natural wildernesses at high elevations. They are solitary and extremely secretive, meaning that they are seldom spotted.
Despite their increasing presence throughout San Diego, due to their elusive nature, mountain lions have coexisted with humans for decades, with only occasional sightings by humans. Nonetheless, it is prudent for hikers to take sensible safety precautions. These precautions include keeping small children close by, dogs on a leash, and avoiding hiking alone.
San Diego’s native wildflowers include the beach evening primrose, coast monkey flower, wishbone bush, yellow mariposa lily, and poppy.
One of the best places to experience San Diego’s indigenous plant life is Mission Trails Regional Park, where chaparral yucca, California sagebrush, coast live oak, toyon, chamise, and sacred thorn-apple all continue to thrive, providing a bountiful habitat for resident flycatchers, warblers, hummingbirds, and desert cottontail, as well as various butterfly species.