VALPARAISO | The city's parks have started an affordable housing program for birds and bats.
Valparaiso Parks Horticulturist Steve Martinson said he's seen barred owls, a great horned owl and even a ground nesting variety in the area and has heard owls at night. So, he thought it would be good to try to attract them the the parks to help control the rodent population.
One owl box was installed in a tree at Forest Park Golf Course and two others will be put up in the restoration area of the Forest Park picnic grounds, where a bat box also is located. Four other bat boxes are in Rogers Lakewood Park, and Martinson said several more will be installed around Earth Day to attract more mosquito munchers.
"We don't have a real rodent problem, but it's good to have the owls around," Martinson said. "If the owl box meets their dimensions and they need to roost, they will come. They might not stay except in the winter."
The bat boxes were built by students at the Krueger Middle School Environmental Outdoor Science Center. Parks employee Ben Ringling knows one of the center's teachers and arranged to have five bat boxes built with the possibility of more in the future.
"The common brown bat is great for eating mosquitoes," Martinson said. "The more we get the better it is."
The parks also have a whole subdivision of houses for bluebirds. Students at Northview Elementary School in Valparaiso made several houses put up last year and more are planned for the area around the roundabout at Silhavy and Vale Park Roads.
Martinson said the naturalization of the Wall Street and Thorgren retention basins and other drainage projects in the city also have the right stuff for the bluebird houses. The bluebirds are good for controlling moths and spiders in addition to mosquitoes. For every three bluebird houses, the parks puts up a wren house, and they have a few chickadee homes as well.
"The wren houses need woods while the bluebirds like open space," Martinson said. "Most of the birdhouses have a white pipe around the base to keep the snakes out. The snakes come to eat the eggs."