Raptor Breeding Season Brings Dangers for Tower Climbers

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A big bird, like a raptor, can knock out a tower climber. Threats to climbers from nesting birds vary by body size and demeanor, according to Dr. Marco Restani, Senior Raptor Specialist with Cell Tower Osprey Management. “It’s unnerving to have a big bird attacking you on a tower,” said Restani. He shared safety tips and suggestions for what to do when a raptor has built a big nest on a tower that needs work during a NATE webinar Thursday titled “Climbing in The Bird-Tower Environment.”

“Birds want to build nests someplace that’s safe, near food and protected from the elements. Basically,” they see towers as “tall trees,” said Restani. Migratory birds are protected by federal law. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act carries a fine of up to $15,000 per count and six months in prison for killing or capturing these birds, including hawks, ospreys, eagles and owls. The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is even more stringent, carrying penalties up to $200,000 and up to two years in prison for disturbing the birds, their eggs or nests. 

It’s possible to take down a nest at the end of the breeding season, said Restani, provided you have a permit from federal and/or state wildlife authorities. Tower owners have restricted access to a tower that has a nest on it during breeding season. That season can last several months.

Before climbing such a tower, he recommends contacting a wildlife specialist to help develop a plan to protect tower climbers and the birds. The plan takes into account the species involved, weather conditions and the nature and duration of the work to be performed. “In general, bird sensitivity to human disturbance varies by the stage of the breeding cycle,” said Restani.

Perhaps a nesting bird wouldn’t be distrubed by two people working quietly at the base of the tower, whereas they might be, by several people working closer to the top of the tower for a longer length of time.  But, emergencies happen. Restani described a situation in Mamaroneck, New York last year, when his company was called in to lend its expertise.

An antenna had become detached, and was dangling at the top of the tower near an osprey nest that still contained eggs. Wildlife protection agencies issued a permit that allowed work to be completed. The crew moved the eggs, completed the work, and returned the eggs to the nest in under two hours. At the end of nesting season, workers returned to find all three eggs hatched and the fledglings had flown out of the nest.

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by Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

March 29, 2019      

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