A perilous place to call home
Two ospreys' choice of a nesting site puts them and the chicks in a dangerous spot.
By THERESA BLACKWELL
Published April 9, 2007
A male osprey in a pine tree at the entrance to John Chesnut Sr. Park has a keen raptor's eye on the East Lake Road traffic below - and on a shopping center sign across the street. His mate is sitting on eggs or small chicks on top of a sign just a few feet from the intersection of East Lake Road and Tarpon Woods Boulevard. When the male osprey sees a human across the road, he swoops up over traffic and then down within a few feet of cars before landing next to his mate to check on the nest. It's the second year the pair have picked this corner of suburbia to try to raise their young. And the odds look even less promising than before that they'll succeed.
Last year, the pair nested in a dead pine tree a little farther southeast of the intersection. A storm toppled the tree with two big chicks in the nest. Rescuers found the chicks and took them away. The parents looked for their nestlings, crying out for days in distress.
Barb Walker, a Clearwater Audubon Society member who lives nearby, worries that a storm could again topple the nest from its perch atop a sign in front of the Tarpon Woods Professional Building. The sign advertises, among other things, activities at the Tarpon Woods Country Club.
"The sign is so narrow and so low," she said. At about 20 feet high, "it's about 15 to 20 feet lower than it should be for a nest."
Though the birds don't pick the best places for nests, they are managing to produce young even in the toughest of conditions. And the male osprey is doing all he can to protect those offspring, even patrolling traffic.
He's not the only one who worries.
Walker has run interference for the ospreys, handing out flyers to let the neighborhood residents know an osprey might swoop down in front of their cars.
She's also talked with the Tarpon Woods Country Club about its monthly changing of the sign's letters. The country club bought a telescoping pole so letters can be changed from farther away. But, Walker said, the male osprey dive-bombed the maintenance worker and the female made distress calls when the pole was used last week.
Rebecca McClimans, who owns the country club with her husband, Greg, said she would like to know more about the regulations regarding ospreys. "We don't want to disturb those babies," she said.
The osprey is federally protected. Unless you have a permit, it is illegal to take, transport (or destroy) the birds or their nests, eggs or young. Doing so can lead a citation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Walker is working on building a nesting platform for the ospreys, at least in time for the next nesting season. Progress Energy has said it will give the Clearwater Audubon Society a pole and nesting platform.
The owner of the Tarpon Woods Professional Building has said the pole and platform can go up in a better location on his property.
The hope is that the pair will settle on the manufactured platform next year.
Once this nesting season is over, Walker said, the nest will be moved to the new platform. She hopes to put an obstacle on top of the sign to keep the birds off it next year.
"We're going to block them in one spot," she said, "and hopefully encourage them in another direction."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.
Size: Length of 23 inches and wingspan of 5 feet, 6 inches.
Distinctive features: The adult is dark brown above and white below. Often confused with their larger cousin, the bald eagle, but the osprey's head has different coloring. Ospreys have a white crown, a dark line outside of the eye and white under the chin.
Habitat: Coastal estuaries, rivers, lakes.
Nesting season: Spring through early summer
Status: The osprey is federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Unless you have a permit, it is illegal to take, transport (or destroy) the birds or their nests, eggs or young.
To learn more: Visit myfwc.com/viewing/species/osprey.htm or www.audubon.org
Source: National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida by Peter Alden, Rick Cech and Gil Nelson.