High (and live!) wire act: CL&P crews move Westport osprey nest
Home sweet new home. A young osprey pair will return from their winter vacation in Central or South America next year to new digs atop a 45-foot utility pole in the Fresh Market parking lot.
Connecticut Light & Power linesmen relocated the nest of the ospreys, or fish hawks, moving the sizable stick structure from the top of a utility pole on Post Road at the shopping plaza entrance to a safer place about 150 feet away Monday. The birds built the nest in the unusual place last spring and successfully raised at least two hatchlings through the summer. The migratory raptors have flown south for the winter and should return to the same nest next spring.
"We didn't want to disturb the nest while the babies were in there," said Jim Pagliaro, field supervisor for overhead and underground lines.
The relocation, which took almost two hours, was done for the safety of the birds and the public. With a wingspan of up to six feet, ospreys can come into contact with the power lines, threatening their safety and possibly causing a fire or power outage. Pagliaro said the ospreys' Post Road nest caused a power outage in that section of Westport last July. The damage to the nest was evident as crews lowered it. One stick was charred.
"It's a hazard to the birds," said Bob Deptula, senior cultural and natural resource specialist for Northeast Utilities. Deptula said the company worked with the Connecticut Audubon Society and other wildlife experts on the nest relocation.
Milan Bull, senior director of science and conservation for Connecticut Audubon, was not there for the transfer Monday but has said ospreys have rebounded to historic levels after their populations plummeted in the 1950s through the early 1970s because of DDT and other pesticide use, creating a shortage of nesting areas "so they are expanding their nesting range and they're beginning to nest in lots of bizarre places."
Ospreys are fish-eating birds of prey and usually nest in platforms in and around water. "Ospreys are a welcome and frequent sight soaring along Connecticut's shoreline and waterways. These unique North American raptors have an affinity for the shoreline because of their almost exclusive diet of live fish and ability to dive feet-first in the water to catch them," a CL&P press release read in part.
Deptula said last year the utility company had 20 separate instances where ospreys nested on utility poles and had to be relocated. He wasn't sure how many of those were in Fairfield County.
In preparation for the Westport next move, CL&P last week replaced a 35-foot utility pole in the Fresh Market parking lot with a 45-foot pole. They got approval for the higher pole and relocation of the nest from the property management company, Equity One Real Estate. Deptula said ospreys prefer high platforms.
The hope is to encourage these birds to embrace their new home away from power lines. CL&P has successfully relocated osprey nests in other parts of the state, including Beacon Falls, Branford and Niantic, company officials said.
Deviating from usual practices, the CL&P crews installed wooden braces for the nest rather than the steel that has been used elsewhere. "We thought they would look better. We're trying to create a more natural environment," Pagliaro said.
Thirteen thousand volts of electricity coursed through the live lines as Paul Giannantonio and Darrell Greene worked to keep the nest intact while placing it onto a board and transferring it from one pole to the other.
Several shoppers stopped to watch the transfer and said they appreciated the CL&P effort.
"It's just fascinating to watch them. They're such majestic birds. It's nice to see everybody being so protective and working together to make the transfer of the nest possible," said Donna Wasik, a Westport resident who followed the progress of the pair and their offspring.
"Thank you to CL&P for doing this," said JoAnn Davidson of Westport, who identified herself as an observer in the "Osprey Nation," the Connecticut Audubon Society's new citizen science partnership to monitor the health of Connecticut's ospreys.
"This young osprey couple will probably come back and nest here again. If they had two (clutches) they were successful," she said, and it's a great location. "They can reach the (Saugatuck) river, they can reach the Sound."
Pagliaro said CL&P officials are trying to get funding from outside sources for a web cam that would be trained on the nest so that the public could watch the pair rebuild their nest next spring, lay the eggs, incubate them, and feed the hatchlings. "What a teaching aid that would be," Pagliaro said.