http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/02/29/welcome-mat-out-for-winged-hunters


Almanac

News - February 29, 2012

Welcome mat out for winged hunters

by Dave Boyce

Horses have long lived at the Horse Park at the corner of Sand Hill and Whiskey Hill roads in Woodside. Bluebirds, owls and bats have too, maybe in houses they found, maybe in ones they built, but not until recently have they had homes built for them.

The Horse Park recently added accommodations for these creatures, as well as perches for hawks, and falcons and eagles, said Nancy Benson, a member of the Horse Park's board of governors.

Talons that grab and hold? Eyes that see in the dark? Ears attuned to the tiniest of rustled leaves or the merest speck sailing by in the still air, on the prowl for blood? Yes, rodents and mosquitoes, this is about you, mostly.

Gophers and ground squirrels, with their holes and their tunnels, pose risks to horses and riders in cross-country activities, Ms. Benson said. And while mosquitoes are not a huge problem, they can breed in the year-round water hazards in the obstacle course. "Bats eat lots of insects," Ms. Benson said.

But horses alone do not an ecosphere make. While the new facilities are meant to encourage winged predators, the initiative included 14 bluebird houses. "It was also kind of like an ecology thing," Ms. Benson said. "We're also trying to encourage the other animals."

In addition to equestrian facilities for competitions and training, the Horse Park is committed to "thoughtful stewardship of the land (and) adding value to the community," according to its website.

The bird and bat houses are from Birder's Garden, a retailer in San Carlos, and paid for from the $2,800 raised from some 18 donors in a 2011 campaign, Ms. Benson said. The raptor perches are homemade, she added.

As of February, the houses — owl, bluebird and bat — were unoccupied.

Barn owls reportedly prefer gophers, shrews, mice and voles. Hawks and their cousins dine on ground squirrels, and bats are famous for echo-locating and catching insects on the wing.

The Horse Park is also home to great horned owls, Ms. Benson said. They have excellent vision and hearing, according to Wikipedia, but not much sense of smell: a bad combination for the skunk with its high-contrast coloring and its air of impunity.

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