Living Along an Urban River: Birds of the San Lorenzo River

White-crowned x golden-crowned sparrow hybrid. Photo taken at the San Lorenzo River mouth, Santa Cruz, California. Photo courtesy of and ©  John Garrett.
White-crowned x golden-crowned sparrow hybrid. Photo taken at the San Lorenzo River mouth. Photo courtesy of and © John Garrett.

The San Lorenzo is the largest (and possibly the most beautiful) watershed in Santa Cruz County, spanning 135 square miles. The last stretch of the river with predominantly fresh water (little to no seawater influence) runs from the Highway 1 bridge to the Water Street bridge. This section of the urban river is home to a host of unique plant species including California sycamore, creek dogwood, and thimble berry.The generous populations of trees and shrubs in this section of the San Lorenzo River provide for a variety of beautiful bird species.

Song Sparrow. Photo courtesy of
Song sparrow. Photo by Factumquintus.

Sparrows and finches are among the most numerous birds. Song sparrows and house finches nest in the shrubs and trees along the banks all year round. Other year-round residents include black phoebes and swallows which often build nests on the nearby bridges.

House finch. Photo courtesy of
House finch. Photo by John Benson.

The violet green swallow, cliff swallow and the rough-winged swallow are cavity nesters meaning they build mud nests on bridges or buildings. They also dig holes along the muddy riverbank to nest in. Swallows are most commonly seen during their breeding season which spans late March to July.

Violet Green Swallow. Photo courtesy of
Violet green swallow. Photo by Alan Vernon.

Seasonal winter visitors include the white crowned sparrow and lincoln’s sparrow as well as the american and lesser goldfinches.

White Crowned Sparrow. Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Wander.
White crowned sparrow. Photo by Wolfgang Wander.

Listen to some of these bird songs here:

  • song sparrow
  • house finch
  • violet green swallow
  • cliff swallow
  • rough-winged swallow

    If you happen to go out along the San Lorenzo and snap some pictures of the local birds we would love to share them. E-mail them to We credit all photographers!

    Learn more about the work of the Coastal Watershed Council and the San Lorenzo River Alliance here.

    Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

    This piece is part of the San Lorenzo River Tour by the Coastal Watershed Council. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.


    Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
    Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store
    1. Sources Used

About The Author

Coastal Watershed Council

The Coastal Watershed Council is a nonprofit organization formed in 1995 in response to the declining health of watersheds in the Monterey Bay region. Our mission is to preserve and protect coastal watersheds through community stewardship, education and monitoring.

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