Soaring Over Bourne

An osprey soaring over Bourne

Work crews at a new home under construction in Pocasset have come under sharp criticism from neighbors for tossing away an osprey nest that had been built on the structure’s chimney. People in the neighborhood where the home is being built took to social media to voice their outrage.

“Just a bit pissed and incredulous!” one post read.

“That is so wrong, shame on them,” read another.

“That’s awful and sad! There should be a law against doing something like that! They are amazing birds,” yet another person opined.

In fact, there is a law against disposing of an osprey nest, if it is active. Osprey are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which includes nests containing either eggs or flightless chicks. Just to remove an active osprey nest requires a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Other birds protected under the federal act include ducks, geese, swans, cranes, sandpipers, doves and wild pigeons. The penalty for violating the act depends on whether the offense is considered a misdemeanor or a felony.

The house is under construction by Sullivan Builders of Bourne. Company owner Walter Sullivan said the work crew checked on whether or not the nest was active before they removed it from the chimney. He confirmed that they found nothing.

“We went up there and checked that first thing before we knocked it down,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan said there were no eggs or fledglings inside. He said the nest was only comprised of about a dozen sticks and had no soft area in which eggs could be laid.

“It looked like more of a nest from the ground,” he said.

He added that the homeowners will be moving in next year. He said he plans to advise them to work with the town to put up a large pole with a platform on top in nearby wetlands to give the ospreys a place to roost should they return.

“Unfortunately, we can’t have birds nesting on the chimney,” he said.

Bourne Department of Natural Resources director Christopher M. Southwood said he received telephone calls about the osprey nest situation. Mr. Southwood said that department staff went to the construction site and spoke with the workers about not moving the nest.

Mr. Southwood said there was no evidence that eggs or chicks were in the nest and he could not assume that there were. He said his past experience shows him that most workers are aware of the law and would call if eggs were found inside.

“I’d give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

Mr. Southwood confirmed that the osprey mating season is underway, which is why many are building nests. He reiterated that there was no evidence of eggs or chicks in the nest at the construction site in Pocasset.

There are significant penalties if an active nest is disturbed. A report published by the Michigan State University College of Law in 2014 noted that, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum fine of $15,000 or imprisonment up to six months, or both. A felony carries a penalty of a maximum fine up to $2,000 or imprisonment up to one year, or both.

Ospreys were declared an endangered species after their population suffered a significant decrease from the 1950s into the 1970s. The National Geographic website reported that the osprey population crashed due to the spraying of pesticides such as DDT. Spraying caused a thinning of the bird’s eggshells and hampered reproduction.

A 2012 article at Manomet.org noted that osprey population numbers “plummeted by about 90 percent and by 1964 there were only 11 pairs in Massachusetts.” The article credited the banning of dangerous pesticides in 1972 and the construction of tall poles topped with platforms for nests as factoring in ospreys recovering to almost historic numbers.

As of 2012, experts said there were more than 200 breeding pairs on Cape Cod.

Osprey nests are often found atop electrical poles and equipment. Once the chicks leave the nest and fly for the first time, efforts are made to render the site unusable for future nesting. Nests on those sites can be dangerous both to people and birds.

The larger power transmission companies, such as Eversource, secure federal or state co-signed migratory bird depredation permits. The permit authorizes the removal of a certain number of nests containing eggs or chicks, if deemed necessary for the safety of birds or people, the protection of equipment or the security of service.

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