Dear Bird Folks,
A few weeks ago I read your column about attracting screech owls to a nest box. After reading it I started thinking about Ospreys. I see Ospreys nesting on man-made platforms, radio towers and utility poles. If I put up a platform (I live on the edge of a large pond), do you think the Ospreys will use it? Do you have any suggestions that might make my venture more successful?
– Logan, Brewster, MA
Good on ya Logan,
I’m glad that you are considering an Osprey platform. About seven or eight years ago, a big shot from the Orleans Cardinals of the Cape Cod Baseball League came to see me. They were replacing all the light poles on their field and wanted me to “sponsor” (pay for) one of the poles. Although the pole wasn’t cheap, I told him that I would come through with the cash, but only if they installed an Osprey platform on the top of it. Upon hearing my request, the guy went from being Mr. Rugged Baseball to the Mayor of Whimpville, USA. He began to whine, “The birds will make a mess. They will leave fish parts all over the field, and then there are the droppings. What if someone gets hit with bird droppings?” I replied, “Oh, please. The occasional surprise dropping from an Osprey might make the game more interesting.” After a little back and forth, I gave in and gave the Cardinals’ guy money for the new pole (now who’s the wimp?). I hated letting the Ospreys down, but I couldn’t let a team called “Cardinals” down either. After all, without the real cardinal’s huge appetite for birdseed I wouldn’t have enough money for a light bulb let alone a giant light pole.
Due to their fish fetish, Ospreys must live near substantial bodies of water. The town of Brewster is a great location for Ospreys. There is plenty of water and plenty of fish. I know of several active Osprey nests in that area. That’s the good news. The bad news is that putting up an Osprey platform is considerably more complicated than putting up a bluebird or even an owl box. Osprey poles are heavy, expensive, and will only work in particular habitats.
Back in the ’80s, when I was a less lazy than I am now, I was involved with setting up several Osprey platforms. A team of installers needed someone with both knowledge and muscles, so they of course called me… and asked if I knew of someone who fit that description. I didn’t, but I offered to help anyhow. It has been over twenty years since we put up those platforms and not a single Osprey has ever used one. So much for my expertise.
When I received your note, Logan, I decided maybe it was time for me to find out why those earlier platforms had failed. So I called Mass. Audubon’s super-smart sanctuary director, Bob Prescott. Bob, as always, had the answers, and then some.
Typically, Ospreys want to build their nests in the open. Platforms placed in marshes or even out in the middle of the water have a much better chance of being used. The birds like to have a clear view in all directions and platforms placed near taller trees are often ignored. (That was our mistake in the ’80s.) Ospreys will use platforms away from the water, but the poles need to be very high and well away from any nearby trees. Inland poles should be at least as high (37 feet) as the Green Monster in Fenway Park, but should not have all of that tacky advertisements on it.
A private pole of such height costs around $5,000 to install. Then there is the mess. The baseball guy was right. Ospreys are active, noisy birds and the area around their nest site will be littered with used fish parts and lovely whitewash. Even if you are okay with all of that, you really should check with your neighbors to see of they have issues with falling fish parts.
The idea of putting up your own Osprey platform sounds good. However, you might want to consider the cost and all the other factors before going for it. Bob suggested that another option would be to “sponsor” an Osprey pole, you know, like I did with the light pole. You give Mass. Audubon (or a similar organization) some money and let them find the proper location, handle the pole installation and deal with the falling fish parts. Bob said he would even put a plaque on the pole with your name on it: “The Logan Osprey Pole.” How cool would that be? It would certainly look better than those tacky signs on the wall at Fenway.