Support your local osprey

It was the moment of truth.

Crews placed an osprey nest atop a high platform and began to tamp down dirt around the base of the supporting pole. Suddenly, an osprey flew by to inspect the nest.

The maneuver relieved the minds of ITD environmental planners who worried that relocating the nest from the Del Rio Bridge on the U.S. 20 business loop east of St. Anthony would drive the birds away. Twenty minutes after ITD workers left the site, however, an osprey landed in the nest.

To say the birds are people-tolerant would be an understatement.

Ancestors of the birds built the nest on girders of the steel bridge decades ago, and descendants have occupied the nest since, bringing a new generation of fledglings into the world each summer. Until last spring, when high winds toppled the upper part of the nest, it stood six feet tall. Now, just two and one-half feet tall, the nest weighs 600 pounds.

Ospreys are voracious fish hunters that take up residence near clear streams, such as the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River that runs under the bridge, where they can spot fish near the surface.

Over the years, ITD has taken pains to accommodate the ospreys, even waiting for fledglings to fly on their own before conducting noisy maintenance operations. With the 82-year-old bridge scheduled for replacement next year, officials decided it was the opportune time to move the nest so the birds could adjust to a new location well in advance of disruptive construction.

Crews removed and stored the nest April 4, then placed it on the special nest platform Monday (April 15).

The nest rests atop a 45-foot pole approximately 100 yards southeast of the bridge. When ITD removed the nest, the ospreys were still away for the winter. Over the weekend, the birds returned, looking for their house.

“The ospreys watched us hoist the nest onto the platform,” District 6 Senior Environmental Planner Tim Cramer says.

Wednesday (April 17), he observed a pair of ospreys sitting on the nest and saw what appeared to be a male bird carrying sticks to it.

ITD’s worries about moving the nest apparently were unwarranted.

Relocation has advanced environmental stewardship, which is an ITD goal along with furthering safety, mobility and economic opportunity. Local citizens also are pleased the birds accepted the new arrangements. Undoubtedly, the birds also were relieved at not having to construct a new house made from 1,000 pounds of twigs.

ITD plans to sell the Del Rio Bridge, which is a historic landmark, to the highest bidder. The truss-through-steel structure still is capable of supporting light use. The department will replace it in the same location with a modern concrete span.

District 6 moved the nest as part of its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) environmental mitigation for the bridge replacement project.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game spokesman Greg Losinski says ospreys are a protected species but not a threatened or endangered one. Harassing the birds as they sit on their nest violates federal law.

District 6 Environmental Planner Mike Jones praises the work of district sign and special crews, which performed the nest relocation.

“Moving a bird nest not only helped the osprey stay in the area but also continued to build trust with local citizens that ITD wants to do the right thing,” he says.

Published 4-19-13