Politics & Government

Home upgrade for Chambers Bay ospreys

Bird-watchers who regularly visit Chambers Bay and the shoreline along the Pierce County-owned Chambers Creek properties in University Place may have noticed something new atop two wooden piles along the beach.

Two metal cones recently appeared at the top of the aging piles in an attempt to block returning ospreys from making them their home this year.

In place of the piles, the county built a telephone-like pole nearby with a platform where it hopes the ospreys will establish a new residence.

The county plans to remove the creosote-soaked piles this summer as part of a larger project to restore the waterfront. The county received $2.4 million last year to remove two docks — one to the north and one to the south.

The county doesn’t want the birds returning to the piles, but it isn’t trying to make them leave the area, said Public Works and Utilities director Brian Ziegler.

“We are offering them a better home in an upgraded neighborhood; we want to keep them around,” he said.

“They’re in a pretty dilapidated home right now, and their home is impacting salmon,” he added, referring to the old piles.

With the guidance of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the county built the pole and added nesting material to the platform — a sort of house-warming gift to entice the birds to the new location.

“Osprey, luckily for us, tend to be one of those species that take really well to the relocation of a nest or building a new nest,” said Michelle Tirhi, district wildlife biologist for the state.

She said the first thing the birds look for when scouting a home is to be at the highest point, preferentially with an unobstructed 360-degree view. A platform large enough to hold a large nest is also preferred.

The pole erected by the county meets the state’s specifications, and while the ospreys will have to go to work to rebuild their nest — a practice important to their mating ritual — the county did what it could to make the site as inviting as possible.

“Once you put the platform up there, it’s not really necessary to put any nesting material in it, but we do find higher success when we put some in to start them off,” Tirhi said.

“Once we get a site established for osprey, they tend to be very loyal and very defensive of that site,” she said. “They’ll return to it every year.”

State wildlife officials are happy to have a new home for the ospreys, but Tirhi said they were more concerned about preserving a colony of purple martins that nest along the shoreline where the piles will be removed.

Washington has worked to restore its purple martin population for close to 50 years, after the numbers dipped dangerously close to becoming endangered, Tirhi said.

Six nesting boxes built by an aspiring Eagle Scout have been placed along the shoreline, away from the area where the dock and piles will be removed. The Chambers Bay location is one of five in the county that serve as a home for the purple martin colony.

As for the ospreys, people familiar with them say they return in the late spring and stay until fall. The last couple of years the resident birds have hatched two to three chicks.

“Osprey are incredibly cool birds, and people love seeing their nest, young ones in the nest, and them fishing and bringing fish back to the nest,” said Art Wang, vice president of the Tahoma Audubon Society. “They’re the original Seahawks, in many respects.”