DUNEDIN – Some ospreys will be pretty surprised when they return to their nest atop a light pole at the Vanech Sports Complex this migration season and find it gone.

During a recent special commission meeting Dec. 18, city officials voted unanimously to remove the 22 poles at the recreation complex to make way for the new Toronto Blue Jays Training Facilities; one light pole was topped by an Osprey nest.

While the city made preparations to relocate the nest, state and federal wildlife protection agencies recognize that ospreys like to return to their nest site, year after year. 

Assistant City Manager Doug Hutchens said all 22 poles used for lighting softball fields, in-line skating, racquetball and tennis courts had to be removed, so the osprey would not relocate on a pole nearby to where its nest was once located. 

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Ospreys construct their nests at the tops of dead trees, atop power poles, and on manmade nesting platforms ….The nests are most often used year after year and can become up to 10 feet high as more nesting materials are added each breeding season.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also notes, “Ospreys build large stick nests located in the tops of large living or dead trees and on manmade structures such as utility poles, channel markers and nest platforms. Nests are commonly reused for many years. Nesting begins from December (south Florida) to late February (north Florida). “

The osprey is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but as a State Species of Special Concern only in Monroe County. Permits are required throughout the state to remove a nest and a replacement structure must be erected to mitigate the removal of the nest, according to the state FWCC website.

The agency requires that osprey nests removed under migratory bird permits be replaced by replacement structures of comparable or better quality. The policy is designed to help ensure that osprey populations will not decline as a result of nest removal activities. In addition ospreys are strongly attached to nest sites, and will often rebuild a nest in the undesirable location unless a superior site is provided nearby.

Though the osprey is federal and state protected, a permit is no longer required to relocate an inactive nest, Hutchens said. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission established an Osprey Nest Removal Policy that the city will follow. Such activities include relocating the existing nest during inactive nesting. This nest is currently inactive. Nests can be expected to be active from late January to July, which we need to avoid. 

“Therefore, time is of the essence in relocating the nest,” Hutchens said.

City Arborist Craig Wilson has consulted with Barbara Walker, representative of the local Audubon Society, and she has advised city officials on the proper relocation protocols for the osprey nest. 

“She was instrumental in the repair and replacement of several osprey nests in Dunedin post Hurricane Irma,” Hutchens said. “The subject nest will be carefully relocated to a nearby pole not scheduled for removal and placed on a specially-fabricated osprey platform.”

The cost to remove all the poles and relocate the nest will cost the city $77,949 in project funds. The poles were taken down with an emergency authorization order, earlier than initially planned to avoid possible project delays in case the city was faced with establishment of an active nest on a pole needing removal.

In hopes of recovering some costs of demolition, the Finance Department solicited inquiries for salvaging and repurposing the poles and equipment for use by any interested local recreation agency, Hutchens told commissioners. 

Palm Harbor Recreation showed an interest at one time but is no longer interested. Dunedin Little League is interested in two of the racquetball court lights for use at their batting cages. “Those will be made available to them at no charge by the city provided they remove and install. That work is being coordinated by the Little League with Himes Electric,” he said.

Construction at the Player Development Complex is scheduled to start the first week of February. The Vanech Recreation Complex will close Jan. 7 to allow the contractor to mobilize and secure the property in advance of construction.

Commissioner Maureen Freaney thanked staff for bringing the Audubon society on board to protect the species. 

“It sounds like a good move to get it done so it doesn’t get in the way of progress,” she said.

Commissioner Heather Gracey also thanked staff for working with the Audubon Society to see that everything was handled properly and done correctly.