The osprey nest high atop the crane used in the city’s Riverwalk project is no more.
Officials confirmed the nest contained no young birds or eggs and the short-time home for the pair of downtown raptors was removed so that the project could go on.
Both ospreys hovered overhead as the crane maneuvered its boom to a level where construction workers could reach in and pull out the branches and limbs, allowing them to drop into the Hillsborough River. One of the ospreys held a branch in its talons as it flew over the nest being taken apart.
Clearwater Audubon Society conservation advocate Barb Walker was called in to confirm what Johnson Brothers project manager John Meagher said on Monday: That there did not appear to be any eggs or young ospreys in the nest high atop the company’s crane.
The crane is an integral part of the construction of the city’s signature downtown Riverwalk project, and the nest built by a pair of young ospreys during a period of time when the crane sat idle could have delayed the $11 million project.
It all hinged on whether the raptors had produced eggs in the nest.
Early Tuesday morning, Walker went to the top of an adjacent high-rise office building to peer into the nest, but at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, all she could see was two ospreys huddled together in rain and blustery wind. They weren’t moving, she said, and she couldn’t see if there were any eggs or young in the nest. So she arranged to come back later in the morning to have another look.
“Well, we saw a lot of rain and both ospreys sitting on top of the crane,” she said. “They hunkered down because of the rain.”
She said she had a permit that could have been used by Johnson Brothers to dump the nest, if there were no eggs or young in it. The permit was required because the birds are protected by the federal government.
If there were eggs in the nest, nothing could have beeb done, Walker said, and the crane would have had to sit idle for at least two months, maybe longer until the eggs hatched and the young birds flew off.
“If it had eggs or young, even the president couldn’t change that,” Walker said. “It’s against the law ... It doesn’t matter who you ask — the governor, the president, no one can grant the right to break the law.”
She said Meagher did the right thing to call her early on in the nest construction. Some contractors wait to see if the birds end up abandoning nests on heavy equipment and if they wait too long, eggs will appear, then the heavy equipment is out of service.
“I need to know as soon as the first few sticks go down,” she said. “Once a nest becomes active, which is defined by having eggs or young, then it becomes a federal issue.”
Walker’s blanket migratory bird nest removal permit is valid in multiple counties, including Hillsborough, and that’s what is required to remove the nest, even if no young or eggs are present, she said.
She said the lack of eggs or young in the nest was not surprising. This time of year is considered late in the nesting season, and the nest was only built over the past week or so.
“This is likely a first-time nesting pair,” she said. “They are often ‘just practicing’ and will not have young the first year. They mate for life and pair bonding is complex.”
The pair seems to enjoy the downtown scene or they wouldn’t have built a nest there. An option is to erect a pole nearby with a nesting platform for them, though the cost for that could range into the thousands of dollars.
“Ospreys eat primarily fish,” she said,”so they choose sites near water,” she said.