Illinois Osprey Strategy Hopes to Deter Nesting on Cell Towers


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Without a single osprey nest found between 1986 and 1996, Illinois is now seeing a growing number of ospreys occupy man-made nesting platforms and cell tower structures. Illinois considers the species endangered and has been working diligently since 2013, to encourage the raptors to come back through what is called a “hacking” program.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois is following the lead of Pennsylvania, which began an osprey reintroduction program in 1980. Osprey chicks are brought in from other states and placed in “hacking” boxes located on towers in areas ideal for breeding. As adults, the osprey travel south for winter and return in the summer to breed in their hacking box location. The Pennsylvania Game Commission reported 115 osprey nests were recorded in 21 counties since the program’s inception. 

Although only one pair of ospreys have returned to their nest since the program launched, Illinois is hoping to achieve the same success as Pennsylvania. Patrick McDonald, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said, “It’s a slow process.”

Brad Semel, natural heritage biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, thinks Illinois’ real success with ospreys is due to the collaboration between civilians and biologists to erect utility poles and man-made nesting platforms. “Ospreys have been nesting in cell towers across the Chicago region. Installing more nesting poles and platforms will likely keep the osprey from using the cell towers,” said Semel.

Encouraged the population of osprey is increasing, Semel is also aware of the hazards associated with osprey nesting on cell towers. “Osprey have a 5-foot-wing span that could touch the wires,” said Semel. 

Knowing the birds could get electrocuted and short out the cellular system, Semel has taken responsibility for contacting cell tower owners when nests are discovered on their structures. “Once the adults and chicks leave, then those nesting structures could be removed if they cause a hazard,” Semel said. “Most of the companies that manage these towers are very cognizant of the rules and regulations,” he said. “Sometimes these structures can be in locations that put the animals in conflict with human activities.”

Using Pennsylvania’s program as a measuring stick for success, Semel and McDonald are aware it will take time for the younger birds to successfully nest. Overall, Semel said, the osprey symbolizes how “nature responds positively when we steward our resources and remove toxic material from our environment.”

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