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PGE, state tackle Sauvie Island osprey habitat loss

Effort aims to halt osprey nesting on PGE power poles


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - The osprey platform installed this spring on Northwest Gillihan Loop Road has already been occupied by a family of osprey.A dead tree may seem unsightly and even dangerous to many, but to local osprey, these dry, gray snags are perfect for building nests. Recently, with the loss of their natural nesting habitats due to development, Sauvie Island osprey have been nesting on power poles, which has occasionally resulted in the raptors’ electrocution as well as power outages and pole fires.

“There are still some [osprey] nesting on some natural habitat, but in lot of other areas, there’s been development; there’s been buildings added where there used to be trees,” said full-time volunteer and founder of the Sauvie Island Habitat Partnership, Jane Hartline. “The main reason is, if you look along the river, people have built houses, and businesses are in the places where trees used to be.”

In an effort to rebuild osprey habitats and prevent further raptor casualties, Portland General Electric is working with Sauvie Island residents to erect osprey platforms across the island.

Jarrod Morrison, joint utilities manager at PGE who is in charge of putting up the platforms, said between 18 and 24 platforms have been installed. This spring alone five new platforms have sprung up. At this point, three of the new platforms have osprey nests.

Morrison said each pole costs between $2,000 and $3,000 depending on location and ease of access to the installation site.

“With easy access, a crew can install a platform in two hours at about $2,000,” he said. “If we have to go far out and off the road, the cost goes up.”

PGE has an annual budget for avian protection and Sauvie Island is just one of many locations in the region where the company has installed platforms.

“Normally we install the platforms as needed,” Morrison said, “This year we’re trying to get ahead of it. This is the first time we’ve been proactive with installing platforms.”

Morrison said he met with Hartline over the winter to identify osprey nesting sites on the island.

In total, Morrison said 28 osprey and five bald eagles were identified. “We looked at where we had the most occurrences and where we had successful nesting,” he said.

PGE waited for the osprey to migrate south before destroying the nests that had been built dangerously close to power lines.

“Osprey have a really cool migration story,” said Susan Barnes, ODFW’s regional conservation biologist. “Some go to the southern U.S., but a lot go all the way down to Mexico and Central America for the warm weather. There is anecdotal evidence that there are more osprey not migrating—possibly due to climate change. We’ve been seeing more [osprey] overwinter in Oregon, likely due to the temperature. The habitat is also being impacted in Mexico and South America.”

Barnes added that osprey numbers have been on the rise for the past 30 to 35 years. The reason for the population increase, Barnes said, is primarily due to the ban of certain pesticides like DDT in 1972, which was found to cause eggshell thinness within bird populations. DDT is still found in the membranes of eggs, Barnes added.

While Sauvie Island osprey enjoyed their winter near the equator, PGE got to work installing platforms near the nests they destroyed. The raptor platforms stand 50 to 100 feet away from the original nests and much taller than surrounding utility poles in order to attract osprey returning to their former nests.

“For the most part, it’s been really successful,” Morrison said. “Out of the five new platforms, we have three active nests right now.”

The osprey are attrwacted to the platforms for the 360-degree views they offer, allowing the raptors to keep watch for predators like bald eagles, which will often try to swoop in and pick up juvenile osprey.

PGE has also been working to restrict further osprey nesting on utility poles by installing phase covers near power lines. The phase covers prevent birds from touching two wires at the same time, which causes electrocution.

Osprey are protected by state and federal law, so before destroying a nest in a precarious location, people should first call ODFW. Barnes added that osprey are notorious for picking up bailing twine, fishing line and plastic bags and incorporating them into their nests. This often results in young osprey being hanged by the trash, so litter prevention is of high importance when it comes to the wellbeing of osprey, she said.

“Osprey are an important part of a healthy, balanced ecosystem,” Barnes added. “They’re top predators and they eat mostly fish, but will also catch small birds, frogs and other amphibians.”