Birds and other animals
at McLaren Park


McLaren Park is an urban oasis...

...for hundreds of bird and animal species, some who make it their year-round home, and others who make McLaren a pit stop on their journeys along the Pacific Flyway or other migration paths.  


Red shouldered hawk
Red shouldered hawk
SMP photo by Ed Brownson
[click picture for info]

The diversity of vegetation in McLaren Park provides suitable foraging, nesting, and roosting habitat for a wide variety of species.

The grassland and scrub habitats of McLaren Park provide foraging habitat for raptors, while the forests provide potential nesting habitat for these species. Habitat for smaller birds such as sparrows, finches, and flycatchers is available in the scrub and mosaic habitats throughout the park.

-- from SF Natural Areas Plan for McLaren Park

Bird watchers who visit the Golden Gate Park disc golf course always note the diminished songbird population. There is very little ground cover for them to forage in and reduced shrubbery and lower tree branches for them to perch on, and the regular sound of limbs snapping as discs whiz through the air must be alarming to many small animals. We are greatly concerned that a disc golf course in any part of McLaren Park will further reduce the fragile ecosystem that supports such a wide variety of passerines. In fact, the SF Natural Areas Plan designates several already-threatened Sensitive Species and Important Bird Habitat Areas in McLaren Park that the proposed course will overlap.

Sensitive Species and Bird Habitat Map
[click map to enlarge]
McLaren Park provides breeding habitat for over 50 species of birds.  This is only one of a couple sites in San Francisco where the beautiful Lazuli Bunting breeds. In addition to breeding birds, many other bird species rely on McLaren Park as habitat during migration.

-- From GG Audubon letter to RPC

McLaren Park Breeding Bird List

These are species identified as breeding at McLaren Park (See SF Breeding Bird Atlas). One species is classified as near-threatened on the IUCN scale (NT), and over twenty have been observed directly on one of the proposed disc golf fairways by Save McLaren Park observers (DG). Many of these birds are also Golden Gate Audubon Society Species of Local Concern (SLC):

Red-shouldered Hawk- DG, SLC
Red-tailed Hawk- DG, SLC
American Kestrel- DG, SLC
Rock Dove 
Great Horned Owl- DG, SLC
White-throated Swift- DG
Anna's Hummingbird - DG
Allen's Hummingbird 
Downy Woodpecker - DG
Olive-sided Flycatcher - NT
Pacific-slope Flycatcher - DG, SLC
Black Phoebe - DG
Hutton's Vireo - SLC
Stellar's Jay
Western Scrub Jay 
American Crow 
Horned Lark
Tree Swallow - SLC
Violet-green Swallow - DG
Barn Swallow - SLC
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 
Pygmy Nuthatch - DG, SLC
Brown Creeper - DG
Winter Wren 
Swainson's Thrush - SLC
American Robin - DG
Northern Mockingbird 
European Starling 
Orange-crowned Warbler - SLC
Wilsons Warbler - SLC
Spotted Towhee - SLC
California Towhee - DG
Song Sparrow 
White-crowned Sparrow - DG
Dark-eyed Junco - DG 
Lazuli Bunting 
Red-winged Blackbird 
Brewers Blackbird 
Brown-headed Cowbird 
Hooded Oriole - SLC, DG
Purple Finch - DG, SLC
House Finch - DG
Pine Siskin 
Lesser Goldfinch - DG, SLC
American Goldfinch - DG, SLC
House Sparrow 

Other birds observed in the park by SMP

Cedar Waxwing
Cooper's Hawk
Great Blue Heron (Upper Reservoir)
Western Meadowlark 
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Townsend’s Warbler
Varied Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Fox Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Say’s Phoebe
Gadwall (McNab Lake)
American Wigeon (McNab Lake)
Northern Flicker
American Coot (McNab Lake)


Try the riparian area and ponds off Shelly Boulevard for the widest variety of birds. It is one of the surest places in the city to find Western Meadowlark, Lesser Goldfinch and American Goldfinch. Expect most of the same species as elsewhere in the city. The wooded areas near the open grasslands make this a pretty good park for raptors, particularly in winter. Loggerhead Shrikes were once a sure thing here but they have disappeared from then open areas of this park as well as from other parks in the city. Redwood groves should be checked for wintering Hermit and Varied Thrushes. Eucalyptus groves often have winter blooming trees and can be expected to provide habitat for a wide variety of insectivores.
 --SF Field Ornithologists           

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
SMP photo by Ed Brownson
[Click picture for info]


Several hills on or near proposed disc golf fairways are prime locations for butterfly hill-topping.

Bay checkerspot butterfly
Bay checkerspot butterfly

Photo from Wikipedia
[click for more info]



Hill-topping in butterflies is a very complex behavior that often facilitates meeting of the sexes. Small changes in the appearance of a site can result in males not recognizing it as a suitable site. Factors which determine whether a site is used or not can be quite subtle so that changes causing butterflies to abandon the site can be quite small. Disturbance of plants on, or topography of, the hill-top, or to its slopes and immediate surroundings, may render it unsuitable to butterflies as a hill-topping site. In the absence of other hill-topping sites, butterflies may disappear entirely from a district.
-- from Final Determination of the
New South Wales Scientific Committee



Larval host plants for the mission blue and bay checkerspot butterflies are relatively common at McLaren Park. Eggs and larvae of the mission blue butterfly were found on lupines in the southernmost grassland of McLaren Park. This is the slope that faces San Bruno Mountain and where colonization of McLaren Park is the most likely.
--from SF Natural Areas Plan for McLaren Park


McLaren Park [contains] Johnny Jump-ups, which is the larval food plant for the Calliope Silverspot Butterfly, a federally endangered species. This butterfly's main habitat is four miles to the south of McLaren Park on San Bruno Mountain.  Intense residential development is rapidly closing off the wildlife corridors, forcing butterflies and even gray foxes to move from San Bruno Mountain to McLaren Park.
-- from San Francisco: A Natural History, by Greg Gaar and Ryder W. Miller

Bugs & Little Critters

Unsung heroes of the natural world get their shout out here, from earthworms to dung beetles to several species of native bees to spiders to dragonflies and so much more. This "foundation of the forest" makes life possible for all the birds and other larger animals in the park. Habitat for many of these species would be trampled and eroded by the ongoing activities of a disc golf course, just as it has been in Golden Gate Park

Alligator lizard

San Francisco
Alligator lizard.
SMP photo by Ed Brownson

Potato bug.
SMP photo by Melanie Walker

Potato bug's Bees of the Bay Area

Western Fence Lizard Commonly seen sunning on paths, rocks, and fence posts, and other high places. This behavior makes them an easy target to predation by snakes, birds, and even some mammals. They protect themselves by employing their fast reflexes.

Potato Bug What can you say about Potato bugs?

Small Mammals

The rarer, mostly nocturnal indigenous gray fox, nearly gone from its native lands, travels between McLaren Park and San Bruno Mountain, probably along a narrow greenway of undeveloped land in the Visitacion Valley. Wildlife needs routes to get around on land fragmented over 200 years of development. The land doesn't have to be that wide -- one or two lots. We haven't seen any dens," said [Lisa] Wayne [Director, SF Natural Areas Program], who has seen the secretive animal.
-- from " Nature Moves Back In"
SF Chronicle,  July 13, 2003


Grey Fox
Gray fox

Photo from Dept. of Interior

Gray fox are the only fox species in the world that can climb trees. They prefer woody, brushy habitats, and eat a variety of foods. Their keen sense of smell and acute hearing help them locate small mammals, such as gophers and mice. Gray fox also eat fruit, plant materials, insects, and birds. Not only are they scarce in the Presidio, they are rarely seen due to their shy nature and nocturnal lifestyles.

Once widespread, gray fox are now confined to only a few natural areas within the city such as Glen Canyon Park, McLaren Park, San Bruno Mountains, Bayview Hill, and the Presidio, although sightings here are very rare.
-- from 2005 Presidio Meso-Carnivore Study



California Vole
California Vole
Photo from WikiMedia Commons by Jerry Kirkhart


Other small mammals in McLaren Park

Western Harvest Mouse
Broad-footed Mole
California Meadow Vole

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