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For now, raptors find new home at Islander stadium

Osprey sit atop a light pole at MIHS in April. - Contributed Photo
Osprey sit atop a light pole at MIHS in April.
— image credit: Contributed Photo

Going on for about a decade, Mercer Island Stadium has served as a nesting home for osprey, large urban raptor birds with a five-foot wingspan. The birds spend summers in Mercer Island before migrating to South America for the winter. Like clockwork every year, they always come back.

But with the remodel of the press box last summer, the osprey nest came down and was never replaced, with some concerned community members wondering why. They worried taking down the nest would distress the urban raptors, and that they would venture elsewhere for its new home.

Recently, the osprey relocated atop a light pole on the bleacher side of the stadium’s south end. But for how long the osprey will nest there remains to be seen.

Mercer Island School District director of maintenance and operations Tony Kuhn said the school couldn’t replace the nest after demolishing the old press box where the nest was located, which provided shelter and protection from falling debris. Kuhn said countless people have been hit by debris, which posed a problem, especially when considering nesting material could weigh upwards of a couple hundred pounds.

“[Osprey] are an extremely messy bird. They typically don’t defecate in their nest, which is high in uric acid and is extremely damaging to vehicles,” he said. “Sticks and debris fall, and we’re talking good size branches coming down. Bottom line, it was a huge safety concern.”

Kuhn said the school worked very closely with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to remove the nest, saying they were very careful following state regulations and the permit process. Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Chris Anderson, whom Kuhn consulted during the removal process, said he could see the safety concerns falling debris posed at the football stadium. Longterm buildup and lack of maintenance with the bird droppings would cause the school problems. As long as there were no egg hatchlings, now would be the time to remove the nest, as it would minimize the issue of relocating for the birds.

“I wouldn’t say distressed is the best way to describe it,” said Anderson of the nest removal. “So long as it doesn’t have eggs and it doesn’t have young, it’s like a dead tree that falls in winter. [Removing the nest] will bother the birds, but it won’t stress them out to point they’ll pop. It happens in nesting ecology.”

But one bird enthusiast on the Island, who asked not to be identified, knew the birds would keep coming back. They are very loyal birds, and even if the school won’t build a nest, the birds will still do it anyway. It would make sense for the school to choose where to build the nest instead of the osprey choosing to relocate somewhere less ideal for the school.

Kuhn had an ideal target area in mind, saying moving the birds to a nesting platform pole slightly north of the stadium would be ideal. But with site plans for construction of the fourth elementary school still being finalized, the school wouldn’t be able to construct it just yet.

In the meantime, the school created a device that sits on top of some of the poles to prevent the osprey from building nests, though the birds seemed to have found away around that with their current residence.

While Kuhn said the school is trying to encourage the birds to take their efforts some place more worthwhile, a new platform still hasn’t been completely ruled out.

“I think they’re definitely going to be missed,” he said. “But that’s not to take out of the question building something close.”

 

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