Sometimes ospreys build their nests in inconvenient places.
Sometimes laws designed to protect migratory birds come in conflict with practicality, and sometimes people, birds and state officials can clash a bit over what is the right thing to do when an osprey builds a nest where it shouldn’t.
This is what happened over the Memorial Day weekend, when people at the Milford Yacht Club watched as two ospreys courted and eventually built their nest on that Sunday morning atop a crane in Milford Harbor.
The nest was atop a crane that was moored in Milford Harbor, off Rogers Avenue, resident Eileen Russell wrote in a letter to the newspaper. “On Tuesday morning my friend, whose condo has a bird’s eye view of the nest, watched as the crane operator lowered his crane and dismantled the nest.”
This didn’t make the people who had seen the nest being built very happy. A few of them contacted the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and their complaint was referred to a special agent from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who is responsible for the region.
The concerned residents were told that dismantling an active nest is a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The osprey is one of the species protected by this act.
“It was a pleasant surprise to see that on Wednesday, May 27, the birds rebuilt their nest on top of the crane again,” Russell said. “That pleasantry was short lived; the nest was again removed. This time, however, the crane was lowered so there [wouldn’t] be another nest built there.”
Russell called the dismantling of the two nests “deplorable,” and pointed out that no other perch was constructed nearby to give the ospreys an alternative home.
The incident took place outside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) station at 212 Rogers Avenue, but NOAA officials were not part of that holiday weekend decision to take down the nests, said Ronald Goldberg, chief of culture systems and habitat branch aquaculture at the facility. When DEEP contacted them, they helped track down the contractor, and his crane, who had been hired to install a new dock at the Milford lab.
“The nest that the ospreys had started to build was on top of a construction crane on a barge,” Goldberg learned. “The crane was operated by a contractor, not NOAA.”
The crane and barge have since completed the work and have since left Milford Harbor.
After that holiday weekend, DEEP officials got several calls about the nest and started tracking down the crane operator. When they found their man, they sent a special agent to meet with him and gather more information.
Technically, the crane operator did violate the federal law when he dismantled the nest. But Jenny Dickson, supervising wildlife biologist for the DEEP wildlife diversity and outreach programs, said the DEEP has to address different situations with an open mind. “People do make mistakes,” she said, noting that they may not know what type of bird built the nest and may not realize they are violating a federal law when they interfere with the nest.
Because there are variables with every situation, DEEP officers often have to use “flexibility” when making their decisions about whether to issue the violator a warning or a fine, she said.
“It is doubtful there were eggs in the second [nest] attempt given the timeframe,” Dickson said. “As for the first attempt, it is hard to know for sure, and without evidence it would be difficult to do much more than issue a warning. I know the special agent is still making a few calls and gathering information, but I doubt it will go much farther.”
Dickson said what happened in Milford is one of those gray areas where the law is concerned. People are not allowed to take the active nest of migratory birds, but it’s a gray area when the birds nest in a spot no one intended them to nest, like electrical wire posts or cell phone towers, where the nests could cause outages or fires, presenting a danger to both people and the osprey. In those instances, wildlife officials may try to help the property owner find a reasonable solution.
And then there are cranes — this isn’t the first time an osprey has built a nest on a crane, and that’s a problem if the operator needs the crane to make a living, Dickson said.
Typically, if an osprey does start to nest in a bad spot, the DEEP is informed and sends a special field agent to work through the matter.
Sometimes a new platform can be built and the nest and its contents moved to the new site. “It can work, but sometimes it doesn’t,” Dickson said.
“The challenge is truly one of Connecticut’s success stories,” Dickson said, explaining that ospreys are more abundant now than they were in in the 1960s.
According to the DEEP website, in the 1940s, the coastal zone between New York City and Boston supported an estimated 1,000 active osprey nests. However, development pressures and eggshell thinning caused by DDT contamination reduced the number to 150 nests by 1969. The banning of DDT in the 1970s and restrictions on the use of other pesticides prompted a steady recovery of osprey populations.
In Connecticut, the osprey population has experienced a steady increase since 1974, when there was an all-time low of nine active nests.
“Once again, it is not unusual to see ospreys along Connecticut’s coast and rivers,” the website states.
More ospreys means some new nesting conflicts.
“It’s an increasingly new problem,” Dickson said.