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Water view, curb appeal -- and it's all rent free

Tampa Electric Co. hopes a nesting platform for ospreys in Port Tampa will keep the birds off its power lines.

By JENNIFER L. STEVENSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2002


[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Tampa Electric Co.'s osprey nesting platform on Picnic Island should be good for both the birds and the power lines. Ospreys like their nest high up, and because they eat only fish, they like a water view. The 45-foot pole was erected with the platform at a cost of about $1,200.
Housing booms from Ballast Point to Bayshore. With it comes the refrain: "Everybody wants to live in South Tampa."

Everybody may soon include every bird.

The newest high-rise to adorn the skyline won't be fancy but will be home for a privileged feathered few: Ospreys who swoop and dive.

Tampa Electric plans to build a nesting platform for ospreys on Picnic Island in Port Tampa. The goal: Keep the birds off power lines.

"We like to give the osprey a good, safe place to roost," said Ross Bannister, spokesman for Tampa Electric. "These platforms have curb appeal. It's just a matter of time before they move in."

Ospreys favor tall power lines and poles because of the view. For the same reason, they nest atop telephone poles, chimneys and dead trees. Sometimes, they roost in ballparks.

Since they eat only fish, any place near a body of water is considered prime real estate, said Alex Kropp, an assistant regional biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

On Picnic Island, the birds feast on the fish of Tampa Bay. This week, a 45-foot pole was erected for the platform at a cost of about $1,200, Bannister said.

Julie Sternfels, park naturalist with the city's park's department, asked Tampa Electric to build five platforms in parks where ospreys have been sighted.

"It just seems like a natural place for them," she said. The others are Al Lopez Park, Gadsden Park, Rivercrest Park and Sulphur Springs Park.

photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
TECO worker Brad Bates helps install a platform on top of a 45-foot pole. TECO hopes the platform will attract ospreys who will choose to nest there instead of atop power poles.
A platform will be built in Gadsden Park, on South MacDill Avenue, later this year. Gadsden has a man-made lake stocked with fish, Sternfels said. Ospreys who roost there can glide down to the shallow flats of Hillsborough Bay, where mullet makes for a tasty treat.

Tampa Electric built eight platforms in 2001, none of which were in the city limits, Bannister said.

Usually, ospreys had already started building nests, which made it a little more difficult for the company.

Delicate work was needed on the company's part to relocate the nests under a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. One strict prohibition is that the company cannot touch an "active" nest which contains eggs, babies or birds. At the first sign of a nest, the company must act fast, Bannister said. A crew is dispatched to erect the platform, which is 3-feet wide by 3-feet long.

"The birds tend to stay away when we are working," he said. "They are flying around and making a distinctive peeping noise."

Helping the osprey is not entirely charity. Roosting on power lines can be deadly for the birds, but also can cause power disruptions when bits of the nest fall on the line, Bannister said.

"I don't think anybody is making us do it," he said. "This is Tampa Electric being a good neighbor."

Whatever the motivation, Kropp commended the company.

"The platforms last a lot longer than what the ospreys tried to do themselves," Kropp said. "It turns out much better for the osprey."

- Jennifer L. Stevenson can be reached at 226-3405 or at stevenson@sptimes.com.

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