Pole problem topples osprey nest site

Part-time feathered residents of a northwest Calgary neighbourhood might have to find a new home after city workers removed a rotten light pole that hosted their nest.
An osprey delivers a fish to waiting chicks in Longmont, Colo., earlier this year. A local power company built a new pole for their nest and the mating couple had no trouble finding their new home. ((Joshua Buck/Associated Press))

Part-time feathered residents of a northwest Calgary neighbourhood might have to find a new home after city workers removed a rotten light pole that hosted their nest.

Winds gusted up to 80 km/h on Tuesday, knocking down a 15-metre light pole from a soccer field, which landed on two vehicles in the 2100 block of Broadview Road N.W.

No one was hurt. The remaining seven poles, which held floodlights for night games organized by the Calgary United Soccer Association, were found to have rotten bases and pulled down.

Mayor Dave Bronconnier said Wednesday he is considering replacing all of the city's wooden power poles in light of the incident.

But that's not what's on Marijke Van Wijk's mind. For the past 10 or so summers, she has stood on the sidewalk outside her home watching osprey pairs raise their young in a huge nest on top of one of the removed poles. 

"The most wonderful thing having the osprey here I think is when the young ones start to fly. With the parents, they float high up in the sky. Oh, it's magical," she said.

"Let's just hope that the city is sane enough to put another nest up here again," she said.

Easy fix, says conservationist

Osprey are relatively common in southern Alberta, arriving to nest in April and usually migrating away in the fall, according to the Federation of Alberta Naturalists. The large birds of prey reuse their nests and add to them each year, so the nests can grow huge and weigh several hundred kilograms. The average lifespan of an osprey is 30 years.

A 15-metre light pole from a northwest Calgary soccer field crashed down on two vehicles on Tuesday but no one was hurt. ((Bryan Labby/CBC))

The nest from the soccer field is in storage and plans are underway to build a new site for the birds before they return in the spring, said a spokesman for the city.

The Calgary Zoo already has a man-made osprey nesting platform, equipped with a web cam.

"It's such an easy fix," said Brian Keating, head of conservation research for the Calgary Zoo.

"The osprey doesn't need to nest in exactly the same spot every year. I've worked with osprey researchers in British Columbia where they had to move osprey nests and osprey tolerate it. So if a new pole was placed, and a new platform built … the osprey should could back and nest on that next season."

Osprey nesting sites are not that common, he said.

"Osprey become very site-bonded, they become very attached to where their nest is and they come back year after year," he said. "Osprey need to have good visual access to the river and good fishing sites."