Bird Life in the Park

The trees at Flood Park are a remnant of the woodlands that probably covered a much greater area. Some certainly pre-date the park, perhaps even pre-date European development of the area. A tree may live up to 250 years. Birds have used and adapted to these trees for centuries.  Observing and learning about birds is one of the joys of visiting the park.  Oak woodland areas like Flood Park have become quite rare due to development.

Flood Park is an excellent example of a biodiverse environment in the middle of hundreds of houses. The County of San Mateo calls it a ‘nature retreat in the middle of suburban’ area. The biodiversity the park provides is not limited to the trees and shrubs that create the park’s woodland, it also includes the insects, birds, animals, seeds, and even the tiny microbes that flourish there.

People who spend time in nature have been found to have better immunity, and are happier and less stressed. Just take a look at some of the studies around the Healthy Parks Healthy People, a prescription for mental health.

Everyone and everything on the planet benefits from the complex ecosystems that biodiversity creates. You can witness some of the benefits the ecosystem of the park provides by observing birds at the park.

Nature, the Woodland Birds

Birdwatchers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area are familiar with Flood Park and the many birds that frequent the park throughout the year.

Whether as a family, a school group, or as an individual, bird watching at Flood Park is very rewarding with scores of bird varieties to see.


Birds at Flood Park

Rare Sightings

Thick-billed Kingbird (2021), Lark Sparrow (2008, 2021), Chipping Sparrow (2006, 2012, 2015), White-throated Sparrow (2006), Pine Siskin, and Band-tailed Pigeon


A few featured visitors:

Importance of Oaks in Flood Park

Coast Live Oak trees (quercus agrifolia) as well as other oaks were much used by the indigenous peoples as a staple food. Leaching tannin out of the acorns and then grinding them was laborious. Live oaks may hybridize with other nearby oak trees. They are very susceptible to Sudden Oak Death, so a stand such as this is especially valuable.

Our oak woodland is extremely important in supporting the large and diverse bird population. Our park’s woodland host bird species unique to this habitat. Flood Park is one of the few places nearby to see or hear them. These are just a few of the many species you may find.

  • Acorn Woodpeckers, whose noisy calls enliven any walk, depend on acorns (and bugs in acorns) which they cache in “granary trees”. Look for their many holes in nearby tree trunks. Unique among local woodpeckers, they are colonial birds, found in large family groups. Interesting fact: the species name “formicivorus” means “ant eating”.
  • Oak Titmouse is a drab-looking LBB (little brown bird) with a square-looking crest on its head. It strongly prefers oak woodlands. It’s often found with White-breasted Nuthatch. Interesting fact: they mate for life.
  • Western Scrub-jays, another noisy bird that’s numerous at the park, cache thousands of acorns around the grounds. Other species, whether birds, small mammals or insects, may benefit from finding and consuming these acorns, and of course new oaks may sprout. Interesting fact: jays watch other jays cache acorns and then steal them.

Oak woodlands benefit us through the carbon they sequester, and for the shade the evergreen species provide in summer (and rain shelter in winter). 


Resources for Better Bird Watching

San Mateo County Birding Guide, by Sequoia Audubon Society. The referenced webpage is specifically for the birds at Flood Park.

Merlin Bird ID App, from Cornell University. An app available for iOS and Android devices.

eBird, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Discover a new world of Birding. Find more birds, share sightings, track your own lists.

eBird Check List for Flood Park. This form lists all birds that frequent the park and some that are rare sightings. Print it out and see how many different birds you can spot. You can even use this form to update sightings on eBird.org.

Neighbors Report Additional Sightings: This list is from our own community, Andrea & Ken:

Golden Eagle (2020; several sightings in air and on ground when ground squirrels were overrunning the park; captured and flew off with ground squirrel)

Cooper’s Hawk (2020; dove from tree perch and captured grey squirrel on ground)

American KestrelSharp-shinned Hawk (2020)

Ferruginous Hawk (2021)

Canada Goose (small family flocks during Winter and Spring when grass is sprouting) 

Great Egret (hunting moles & gophers)

Rock DoveBrown Creeper (2020; fairly common, easy to spot foraging for insects on tree trunks)

Bushtit (2020; fairly common in small flocks, difficult to see)

Tree Swallow (in flight)

Anna’s Hummingbird (2021; very common in flight)

White Throated Swift (2020; in flight)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (2020; difficult to see)

Golden-crowned kinglet (difficult to see)

Raven (fairly common in flight and on ground, harasses hawks)

Hooded Oriole (rare)

Brewer’s BlackbirdDark-eyed Junco (very common on ground)

California Towhee (fairly common on ground near picnic tables)

Spotted Towhee (fairly common on ground near picnic tables)

Bewick’s Wren (common, foraging on tree trunks)Northern Shrike (rare)


Additional comments
Acorn Woodpecker: Most common bird seen and heard in Flood Park. Carrying acorns, eating acorns,  stashing acorns, eating red salamander, fly catching, noisily greeting others, excavating  nest holes in oaks, peering out from nest holes, flying tree to tree, drinking from water  fountain, etc.

White-crowned Sparrow: Small family flocks with other sparrows during Winter. Nests during Summer in Alaska  and western Canada.

Golden-crowned Sparrow: Small family flocks with other sparrows during Winter. Nests during Summer in Alaska  and western Canada.

Pygmy Nuthatch: Small family flocks, foraging for insects facing downward on tree trunks
White-breasted Nuthatch: Solitary, foraging for insects facing downward on tree trunks
American Robin Occasionally in flocks of 30-40; pulling worms from moist ground

Red-shouldered Hawk (harassed by ravens and crows)

Red-tailed Hawk (harassed by ravens and crows)

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to the local birders and members of Audubon Society for providing photos, information, and references. Chris MacIntosh was very helpful and inspirational. Some photos by Donna Pomeroy.

A. Jaramillo, Field Guide to the Birds of California, American Birding Association, 2015 

D. Lukas, Bay Area Birds, Lukas guides, 2012

UC Berkeley – A Birds Eye View of Oak Woodland Conservation

California Oak Foundation – Oaks, CEQA, Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change

Parks Conservancy – Coast Live Oak



To preserve the historic trees at Flood Park, action is needed. Below are a few ways, more ideas for action are on our Action webpage.

Please help save Flood Park’s natural woodland habitat

The plan of San Mateo County Parks department is to cut down a major portion of the historic woodland in the park. This will have a major negative impact on wildbirds and the overall ecology of the park. It may very well have a negative impact on the remaining trees due to loss of the protective environment of those trees, resulting in hotter temperatures, stress of changes to soil microbes, moisture, and exposure to sunlight on soil.

Please visit the Action webpage and write to the county Supervisors to let them know that woodland trees should be preserved and protected. This is critical to protect this natural habitat for wildbirds and other wildlife that call Flood Park home throughout the year.

Reference

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