Osprey Watch: Protecting raptors and preventing outages
Osprey are one of the Chesapeake Bay region’s crown jewels. The raptors’ return each March causes nature lovers to gaze skyward as the birds rebuild their nests for breeding season. They seek high ground to keep their young safe. They are also highly adaptable making nearly anything a potential site for their homes, from trees to utility poles.
This can bring an unexpected problem for many people who live along the bay. As the osprey repair and ready their nests for future young, they run the risk of causing power outages when they reside on utility poles. This can happen when dropped sticks or sagging nests come into direct contact with electric equipment.
Not only can this cause an outage, but it also endangers the birds.
All about osprey
At the top of the Chesapeake Bay’s food chain soars one of North America’s largest birds of prey and one of the most widespread birds on earth: the osprey.
At about 24 inches tall with a wingspan of up to 6 feet, the oft-called fish hawk has no predators but competes with the bald eagle for food. With a diet consisting almost exclusively of live fish, this large raptor hovers over the water at an altitude of 50 to 200 feet, diving in feet first to catch its prey.
The osprey is an avid collector. Its conspicuous nests, found atop dead trees, channel markers and tele-
Once nearly eradicated in the Chesapeake Bay region, today there are more than 2,000 nesting pairs in the bay area.
A winning balance
Baltimore Gas and Electric is committed to reliably and safely delivering electricity to customers but the company also has a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and protecting forests, plants, waterways and wildlife in central Maryland.
For the birds, this meant developing Osprey Watch—a program that allows customers to directly notify the company about nests that are sighted on or near power lines and poles.
“Providing reliable electricity is one of our basic responsibilities, but when we can pair this with keeping ospreys safe, it turns into a win-win,” said Chris Burton, vice president of electric distribution. “BGE’s longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship has always included a comprehensive plan to protect wildlife. Osprey Watch enables everyone to help ensure they have a safe nesting season.”
The program debuted in 2016, and vigilant customers alerted the company 23 times about nests on electric equipment in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties and Baltimore City.
How it works
When BGE is alerted, a trained crew is dispatched to review the situation and take steps to both protect the birds and preventpotential power outages. If no birds or eggs are present in the nest, the crew removes it and places deterrents to prevent their return. If birds or eggs are present, shielding is placed on the equipment to prevent contact. Once they leave for the fall, the nest is then removed.
With an average of about 12 outages caused by ospreys each year, this can make a real difference.
In the right setting, it is sometimes possible to relocate the nest to a safe area. Over the past year, four nesting platforms were installed: two at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, one at the Oyster Harbor Community in Annapolis and one in Pasadena.
Before any work involving active nests on BGE equipment, the company’s Environmental Management Unit reviews the situation to ensure that all proper regulations are followed. The company adheres to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald Eagle Protection Act and has a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Purpose Utility Permit, which allows certain migratory bird nest relocations.
“The first year of Osprey Watch was a great success. Through this innovation, we listened to our customers and engaged with them in a common mission: keeping the region’s osprey safe and preventing outages. Together, we are redefining smart energy,” said Alexander Nunez, BGE’s senior vice president of regulatory and external affairs and member of the board of Audubon Maryland-DC.
The program’s success was evident when two service operator crews showed up for work June 30, 2016 and were assigned a job to install a new osprey platform.
A pair had made a utility pole in Pasa- dena their home. Neighbors alerted BGE via Osprey Watch in March, and deter- rents had been placed on the equipment to protect the birds.
The original plan was to transfer the nest to a newly-installed raised platform when they migrated south later in the year. However, the nest caught fire after lightning struck the pole. BGE and the local fire department secured the situation, rescuing three injured chicks that the Owl Moon Raptor Center nursed back to health.
After the crews installed the platform, they were also tasked with relocating the chicks. After a safety check and a briefing from a raptor expert, technicians carefully placed the chicks into their new home.
Then they witnessed a momentous first.
The largest chick stood on the edge of the platform, stretched its wings and flew off into the sky.
“Osprey love to return to the same site year after year,” said Greg Kappler, a BGE environmental scientist. “By letting us know if they build nests on our equipment, we can all partner to ensure their safe and healthy return.”
How can you help?
To notify BGE about a nest, please take the following steps:
• If it is easily accessible, send the pole number, located on a placard near eye level.
• If the pole is not easily accessible, send the nearest address to the pole and attach photos if possible.
Article by Richard Yost—BGE communications manager. Appears in Vol. 20, No. 2 of the Maryland Natural Resource magazine, spring 2017.