Pierce County officials learned a valuable lesson earlier this month when they tried to direct a pair of returning osprey to a new nesting perch on the Chambers Bay waterfront: Don’t mess with Mother Nature.
The county installed a metal pole for the birds to use at the Chambers Creek properties in University Place. But instead, the osprey have settled on a ledge on an old concrete structure at the edge of the park near the Central Meadow.
“Osprey like to be on the tallest structure with a 360-degree view,” said Michelle Tirhi, wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Tirhi was not surprised to learn the birds turned up their beaks at the county’s pole.
“Where they located it and its height, it’s not what I would have suggested,” Tirhi said. “I would have been very surprised if that spot would have been used (by the birds).”
Tirhi was careful not to criticize county officials; their intent to build a new home for the birds was good, she said.
After taking away the bird’s longtime nesting spot atop creosote piles in the water, the county wasn’t required by state or federal law to offer another place for them to land, Tirhi said.
But county officials wanted to do what they could to keep them around.
“There are thousands of people a day who walk along the trail and the Bridge to the Beach, and who are on the beach, who have come to love and know that osprey,” said Brian Ziegler, the county’s director of Public Works and Utilities. “We were taking away the osprey’s habitat that they have known for many years, so we wanted to provide for them elsewhere.”
The county doesn’t want the osprey to nest on the wood piles because officials plan to remove them this summer as part of a $2.4 million environmental cleanup project.
A private environmental contractor was hired to install wire strands on top of the piles. The birds recently returned and tried to build their nest between the wires, so the contractor went to Plan B: wrapping a brown tarp around the wires to deter the birds.
If the birds don’t stay away from the piles, “the project is dead this year,” Ziegler said.
“We have a window to get this done,” he said, “so we’re pretty insistent on keeping the birds away.”
Ziegler couldn’t say how much money was spent to deter the birds or how much the new pole cost because the county has yet to receive an invoice from the contractor. The firm was hired to remove nesting material from the osprey piles, as well as a south dock where purple martins nest; install the nesting deterrents; and build offsite nesting spots for the birds to return to.
The agreement with the county said the work could not exceed $18,600.
There was never a guarantee the new pole would work, Ziegler said.
Tirhi said she provided the county with information saying the pole should be taller. Ziegler wasn’t aware of that conversation and couldn’t answer why the county opted to go with a shorter pole.
Meanwhile, some woody nesting material has appeared on the ground below the osprey’s new home on the ledge. It was unclear Wednesday whether the sticks came from the birds or were placed there by county employees.
If it turns out they are falling from above, Ziegler said the county will make people aware so they don’t get hurt walking under the nest.
Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467