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Soaring Osprey Population

As the osprey population has rebounded, we are working to make sure the birds have safe places to nest.

The recovery of the osprey population, a raptor that returns to Montana from the south each spring, is a success story that began almost 50 years ago when a widely used pesticide, DDT, was banned.

But this wildlife management success story comes with some conflict. Younger osprey in search of nesting sites to breed and hatch eggs will build nests on power poles, causing outages and putting the birds at risk of electrocution.

NorthWestern Energy crews were in Augusta, Montana, in early June to install raptor nest deterrents on power poles, along with a nesting platform to encourage osprey to choose a safe nesting site.

“We don’t know if historically osprey had been in the Augusta area or not, if the species is colonizing a new area in Montana or recolonizing,” said North-Western Energy Biologist Marco Restani.

The new, or perhaps returning, Augusta-area winged residents built a nest on a power pole this spring just outside the substation serving the community. The nest caused a fire on the pole, and falling nest debris damaged equipment and caused a power outage.

Ospreys build nests by dropping sticks to their chosen site while in flight.

“Traditionally, they look for dead trees, snags, with the tops broken off for a nesting place,” Marco said. “Power poles, especially those with cross arms, are often the choice of younger osprey looking to establish a new nesting site. It is dangerous for the birds and it is damaging to NorthWestern Energy’s system.”

Deterrents are PVC pipes that are secured above power pole crossarms. When ospreys drop sticks in flight on a power pole, the PVC pipe prevents them from hitting their target and the sticks fall to the ground. Five are now installed in the Augusta area, along with a raptor nesting platform to encourage the birds to nest in the safe location.

NorthWestern Energy relies on customer reports of ospreys or other raptors beginning to build nests on power poles and other equipment to proactively remove the sticks before nests are complete and eggs are laid.

“The public has been extremely helpful with this effort,” Marco said. Another threat to ospreys, ravens and other avian species also requires action by the public. Unsecured baling twine picked up by birds and used in their nests

has devastating, deadly consequences. The birds can get tangled in the twine and cannot escape. This spring the male of a pair of ospreys that nested on a platform near Whitehall, Montana, died after its talons were caught in a coil of baling twine the birds had picked up and used in their nest.

NorthWestern Energy installs osprey platforms to give the birds a safe place to build their nests.

NorthWestern Energy installs osprey platforms to give the birds a safe place to build their nests.

“It’s really distressing to have this result,” Marco said. “The crew called to remove the dead male said the female had abandoned the nest, which did have a couple of eggs in it.”

Baling twine should be secured in a covered container and disposed of properly to prevent osprey or other birds from picking it up to use in nests.

The Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society has a Twine Collection &Recycling Site in the Laurel, Montana, area. For more information on the project, go to:

yvaudubon.org/baling-twine-recycling.