What Happened to the Nesting Ospreys at Falls Lake Dam?

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For years, visitors to Falls Lake have seen ospreys, and recently, many wondered why they no longer see their nests on the Falls Lake dam.

NewsBuzz Raleigh contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Natural Resource Specialist Rebecca G. Thomson answered our questions and provided some history as well.

She wrote:

“Thank you for contacting us with your question about the osprey. I know this situation appears upsetting, and I want to assure you that we have no malice towards the birds. What has been done is for their protection. I would like to provide you with some history about the nesting pair in hopes that you might be able to understand what is going on.

“Five years ago, the pair arrived and hung out on top of the tower. They didn’t attempt to build a nest. Just hung around and fished the lake and river. Because they were not nesting, they didn’t hinder our normal dam operations. The following year, we noticed the osprey were bringing in some nesting materials but never formed a nest or laid eggs.

“At this point, we contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to get some guidance on the birds. They suggested that we try to discourage the birds from nesting

“In year 3 they managed a bit of a nest and laid one egg. But a severe storm came through and blew away half the nest, and the egg ended up in the lake. We started doing some research on what we could put up on the tower to try to discourage them from nesting, but we were not able to get anything in place before they following nesting season.

“During the 4th year, they laid 2 eggs but the pair was attacked by a male osprey and the female stepped on the eggs trying to defend the nest. Last year was the first time this pair had a successful nest. The female laid 3 eggs. Unfortunately, only one survived.

“Our staff is out on the dam constantly reading instrumentation and conducting gate changes, but during nesting season we limit this as much as possible to avoid disturbing the nesting pair. There is work that we’ve delayed because of the nesting osprey over the years so as not to disturb them, but we have to go out onto the dam to operate the water control gates no matter how much we limit our time on the intake tower.

“We’ve worked closely with the USFWS on the issue, so we’re making the best decisions we can both for this nesting pair and by law. When the surviving egg hatched during the most recent nesting season, we were worried that conducting our dam operations would spook the chick before it was ready to fly, and it would end up falling into the lake. Thankfully, the chick fledged successfully, but we knew every year this could be an issue.

“We decided the best thing was to make the tower less desirable for a nest location.  This way, we wouldn’t endanger the survival of any birds by disturbing them. We know that by doing this, we have taken away a unique nesting area, but it was truly done out of concern for the birds, and we are trying to get an alternative for them before next nesting season. We have been in talks to with Duke Energy to see if they can help us put in a nesting platform nearby. The City of Raleigh has a structure on their intake tower on the lake just upstream which has added another nesting option.

“At one point, there were 35 nest platforms for ospreys on the lake. Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of those platforms from storms or just age; however, there are still plenty of trees large enough to support osprey nests around the lake. They are a very adaptable bird and will nest on just about anything tall and sturdy over water where there are plenty of fish.”

Editor’s Note:
NewsBuzz Raleigh very much appreciates the quick and detailed response from Rebecca G. Thomson.  For more information about ospreys, see: https://www.fws.gov/species/osprey-pandion-haliaetus. For information about Falls Lake, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_Lake

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