Bird Collections

Due to their fragile nature, bird bones are relatively less common in the fossil record than those of other taxa. However, thanks to the preservative properties of asphalt, Rancho La Brea has one of the world’s largest collections of fossil birds, with about 140 species represented!

The majority of these species are still in existence today, while 23 species have gone extinct. In 1909, Merriam's Teratorn (Teratornis merriami) was the first extinct bird species to be described from Rancho La Brea. The bird communities represented at Rancho La Brea are varied and, not surprisingly, 60% of Rancho La Brea birds are diurnal (daytime) birds of prey. These birds were undoubtedly attracted by other animals that were trapped in the asphalt, only to meet their own demise. The next common groups include owls, turkeys, and perching birds. Some of the less common species are those of waterfowl, likely due to a general lack of permanent lakes or ponds on the Rancho La Brea landscape, though seasonal or temporary water bodies may have enticed them to the area.

Much of the early research on our birds was accomplished by Dr. Hildegarde Howard (1901-1998). Dr. Howard was the first scientist to specialize exclusively in the study of fossil birds (paleornithology) and was Chief Curator of Science at (what is now) the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Her publications, standardized ornithological terminology and her anatomical drawings are still widely consulted today. Even with this long and robust history of paleornithology at Rancho La Brea, some groups, such as the ducks and geese, have yet to be studied in detail. Likewise, new species continue to be discovered in the collections as research proceeds.

The following taxonomic list has been taken directly from the following reference but revisions may be necessary. 

Stock, C. 1992. Rancho La Brea: A record of Pleistocene life in California. 7th ed. Revised by J.M. Harris. Science Series no.37. Los Angeles: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 113 pp.

† = extinct,
¶ = Holocene record only

Order Podicipediformes (grebes)
Family Podicipedidae
Podilymbus podiceps (Linnaeus, 1758)
Podiceps sp.


Order Pelecaniformes (pelicans, cormorants, and anhingas)
Family Phalacrocoracidae
Phalacrocorax sp.


Order Ardeiformes (herons and ibis)
Family Ardeidae
Ardea herodias Linnaeus, 1758
Botaurus lentiginosus (Rackett, 1813)
Butorides striatus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Casmerodius albus Linnaeus, 1758
Egretta thula (Molina, 1782)
Egretta caerulea (Linnaeus, 1758)
Nycticorax nycticorax (Linnaeus, 1758)

Family Threskiornithidae (Plataleidae)
Ajaia ajaja (Linnaeus, 1758)
Plegadis chihi (Vieillot, 1817)


Order Anseriformes (ducks, geese, and swans)
Family Anatidae
Anas platyrhynchos Linnaeus, 1758
Anas strepera Linnaeus, 1758
Anas crecca Linnaeus, 1758
Anas cyanoptera Vieillot, 1816
Anas clypeata Linnaeus, 1758
Anser albifrons (Scopoli, 1769)
Aythya valisineria Wilson, 1814
Anabernicula gracilenta (Ross, 1935) †
Branta canadensis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Branta cf. B. bernicla (Linnaeus, 1758)
Chen caerulescens (Linnaeus, 1758)
Chen rossi (Cassin 1861)
Cygnus columbianus (Ord, 1815)


Order Ciconiiformes (storks, vultures, and teratorns)
Family Ciconiidae
Ciconia maltha Miller, 1910 †
Mycteria wetmorei Howard, 1935 †

Family Teratornithidae
Cathartornis gracilis Miller, 1910 †
Teratornis merriami Miller, 1909 †

Family Vulturidae (Cathartidae)
Breagyps clarki (Miller), 1910 †
Coragyps occidentalis (Miller), 1909 †
Cathartes aura (Linnaeus, 1758)
Gymnogyps amplus Miller, 1911 †


Order Accipitriformes (hawks, eagles, and falcons)
Family Accipitridae
Accipiter gentilis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Accipiter striatus velox (Vieillot, 1807)
Accipiter cooperii (Bonaparte, 1828)
Aquila chrysaetos (Linnaeus, 1758)
Buteo jamaicensis (Gmelin, 1788)
Buteo swainsoni Bonaparte, 1838
Buteo lagopus (Pontoppidan, 1763)
Buteo regalis (Gray, 1844)
Buteo sp.
Buteogallus fragilis (Miller, 1911) †
Circus cyaneus (Linnaeus, 1766)
Elanus caeruleus (Desfontaines, 1789)
Haliaeetus leucocephalus (Linnaeus, 1766)
Amplibuteo woodwardi (Miller, 1911) †
Wetmoregyps daggetti (Miller, 1915) †
Spizaetus grinnelli (Miller, 1911) †
Neogyps errans (Miller, 1916) †
Neophrontops americanus Miller, 1916†

Family Falconidae
Falco columbarius Linnaeus, 1758
Falco mexicanus Schlegel, 1851
Falco peregrinus Tunstall, 1771
Falco sparverius Linnaeus, 1758
Falco sp.
Polyborus plancus (Miller, 1777)


Order Galliformes (quails and turkeys)
Family Phasianidae
Meleagris californica (Miller, 1909) †
Callipepla californica (Shaw, 1798)


Order Gruiformes (cranes, coots, and rails)
Family Rallidae
Fulica americana (Gmelin, 1789)

Family Gruidae
Grus canadensis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Grus americana (Linnaeus, 1758)
Grus pagei Campbell, 1995


Order Charadriiformes (plovers, shorebirds, and gulls)
Family Charadriidae
Charadrius vociferus Linnaeus, 1758
Pluvialis squatarola (Linnaeus, 1758)

Family Recurvirostridae
Recurvirostra americana Gmelin, 1789

Family Scolopacidae
Calidris alba (Pallas, 1764)
Calidris alpina (Linnaeus, 1758)
Catoptrophorus semipalmatus (Gmelin, 1789)
Gallinago gallinago delicata (Linnaeus, 1758)
Limnodromus griseus (Gmelin, 1789)
Limosa fedoa (Linnaeus, 1758)
Numenius americanus (Bechstein, 1812)
Numenius  phaeopus hudsonicus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Tringa melanoleuca (Gmelin, 1789)
Phalaropus fulicarius (Linnaeus, 1758)

Family Laridae
Larus canus Linnaeus, 1758 ¶
Rissa tridactyla (Linnaeus, 1758) ¶


Order Columbiformes (pigeons and doves)
Family Columbidae
Columba fasciata Say, 1823
Ectopistes migratorius (Linnaeus, 1766) †
Zenaida macroura (Linnaeus, 1758)


Order Cuculiformes (roadrunners)
Family Cuculidae
Geococcyx californianus (Lesson, 1829)


Order Strigiformes (owls)
Family Tytonidae
Tyto alba (Scopoli, 1769)

Family Strigidae
Aegolius acadicus (Gmelin, 1788)
Asio flammeus (Pontoppidan, 1763)
Athene cunicularia (Molina, 1782)
Bubo virginianus (Gmelin, 1788)
Glaucidium gnoma Wagler, 1832
Otus asio (Linnaeus, 1758)
Strix brea Howard, 1933 † 


Order Caprimulgiformes (poorwills and nightjars)
Family Caprimulgidae
Phalaenoptilus nuttallii (Audubon, 1844)


Order Piciformes (woodpeckers)
Family Picidae
Colaptes auratus cafer (Linnaeus, 1758)
Dryocopus pileatus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Melanerpes lewisi (Gray, 1849)
Picoides sp.
Sphyrapicus sp.


Order Passeriformes (songbirds)
Family Tyrannidae
Tyrannus vociferans Swainson, 1826

Family Alaudidae
Ermophila alpestris (Linnaeus, 1758)

Family Corvidae
Aphelocoma coerulescens (Bosc, 1795)
Aphelocoma coerulescens californica
Corvus corax Linnaeus, 1758
Corvus cryptoleucus Couch, 1854
Corvus brachyrhynchos Brehm, 1822
Corvus caurinus Baird, 1858
Cyanocitta stelleri (Gmelin, 1788)
Nucifraga columbiana (Wilson, 1811)
Pica nuttalli (Audabon, 1837)

Family Paridae
Parus sp. cf. P. gambeli Ridgeway, 1866

Family Muscicapidae
Sialia sp. cf. S. mexicana Swainson, 1832
Turdus migratorius Linnaeus, 1766

Family Mimidae
Oreoscoptes montanus (Townsend, 1837)
Toxostoma redivivum (Gambel, 1845)

Family Bombycillidae
Bombycilla cedrorum (Vieillot, 1808)

Family Laniidae
Lanius ludovicianus Linnaeus, 1766

Family Emberizidae
Parulinae gen. sp. indet.
Pheucticus melanocephalus (Swainson, 1827)
Amphispiza bilineata (Cassin, 1850)
Amphispiza belli (Cassin, 1850)
Chondestes grammacus (Say, 1823)
Melospiza melodia (Wilson, 1810)
Passerella iliaca (Merrem, 1786)
Pipilo erythrophthalamus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Pipilo fuscus Swainson, 1827
Pipilo angelensis Dawson, 1948 †
Pooecetes gramineus (Gmelin, 1789)
Spizella passerina (Bechstein, 1798)
Spizella sp.
Zonotrichia leucophrys (Forster, 1772)
Agelaius sp. cf. A. phoeniceus californicus 
Euphagus magnirostris Miller, 1929 †
Icterus sp.
Molothrus ater (Boddaert, 1783)
Sturnella neglecta Audabon, 1844
Xanthocephalus sp.
Pandanaris convexa

Family Fringillidae
Carduelis pinus (Wilson, 1810)
Carduelis tristis (Linnaeus, 1758)
Coccothraustes vespertinus (Cooper, 1825)
Fringillidae gen. and spp. indet.