Posted on 15 April 2014.
It’s that time again. Washington osprey, also known as fish hawks, fly back from their warm winter homes in Mexico or Central America and get busy breeding. If all goes well they return to the nest they left behind the previous September, mate, lay their eggs, and get ready to tend demanding babies and fussy fledglings throughout the summer.
Seattle named its Superbowl champs after these large charismatic raptors because here in Washington we love our osprey. They are large nimble fliers who can take an eagle in a fight and who dive talon-first for fish with astonishing strength and precision, sometimes becoming fully submerged in the process.
Osprey platform on AT&T cell tower at Battle Point Park (Photo by Julie Hall.)
Things are not going well for the osprey pair that returned last week to its nesting site on Bainbridge Island off of Sportsman Club Road near Coppertop Loop (yes, they are mating in the featured photo). Like many breeding osprey, several years ago this pair chose a cell tower to nest on. Why? Cell towers are tall rigid structures, and it’s gotten harder to find big trees.
Unfortunately for this pair they happen to have selected T-Mobile as their service provider. If they had gone with AT&T, for example, which accommodated its osprey pair at the Battle Point Park cell tower with a nesting platform, this pair might not have returned to find their nest removed and their nesting site blocked off with a nest-excluding device. According to Janice M. Danielson, who manages Bainbridge Self-Storage, located next to the cell tower, the osprey arrived over a week ago and have been having a heck of a time trying to figure out what to do.
Workers removing last season’s nest (Photo by Janice Danielson.)
Danielson wrote Inside Bainbridge two days ago: “T-Mobile continues to tear down the nest every year to the dismay of the ospreys. In the past few months they have had people up there to remove the nest again and place more wires in an effort to keep the osprey out. The osprey are there right now and trying to build their nest on the cell tower. They have tried to fly back into the area where their nest was last year but keep running into the wires. We are concerned that they will get hurt in their effort to get into that space.”
Osprey expert Jim Kaiser, who has worked for nearly 30 years advocating for osprey and assisting power and cell companies in finding ways to accommodate the big birds, explained that osprey are extremely tenacious animals with intense nest-site fidelity.
Indeed this pair’s struggle to find a way to make their nest site work is a picture of tenacity. As of yesterday, April 14, they had done what Kaiser previously believed impossible—figured out a way into the excluder device through an opening underneath. Danielson and her coworker Isabelle R. Cobb observed the osprey carrying branches through the hole at risk of injury. Today for a while they tried a different tack—laying branches on the lower tier of the structure, which has large wires, apparently in an attempt to build their nest there. But now they are climbing back up into the main cell tower, once again inside the excluder.
Osprey trying to build nest below excluder device—see branches on left (Photo by Sarah Lane.)
Danielson and Cobb are frustrated. Danielson said, “We are looking for an answer as to why T-Mobile is not working with environmental/animal welfare groups to install a platform or another pole with a platform for the ospreys. Is T-Mobile going to take responsibility if one of those beautiful raptors gets hurt or killed trying to find their way through the band-aid solutions they keeps applying? Other companies like AT&T and PSE have Avian Protection Programs. What makes T-Mobile exempt from this?”
For an answer to that question two days ago Inside Bainbridge contacted T-Mobile, which did not respond to our message. Today we were able to reach T-Mobile Seattle’s Regulatory Manager Jamie Alsaro. I explained the predicament of the Coppertop osprey and told Alsaro that Kaiser offered to visit the site tomorrow to find an alternative place to provide a platform near the cell tower. Kaiser knows that time is of the essence for this breeding pair, whose window to get a new nest built and successfully breed is closing. Osprey don’t react well when they can’t raise young, Kaiser explained. “If they don’t breed they will spend the season building what we call ‘frustration nests’ all around the area.”
Osprey inside excluder device as of 2:35 p.m. April 15. Arrow points to birds. (Photo by Janice Danielson.)
Alsaro told me, “It’s not a matter of not caring about them [the osprey]. It’s a safety issue for the workers.” I asked her if T-Mobile would be willing to work with Kaiser to achieve a solution for the birds. She said she would look into fixing the situation as soon as possible.
In the meantime, Danielson and Cobb are poised to launch a campaign to raise money to put up an alternate pole and platform for the desperate birds. They are hoping that T-Mobile will be part of the solution.
Inside Bainbridge will update this story as more information becomes available.
Photo of mating osprey pair by Julie Hall.