May 5, 2012

Osprey nest forces a port choice

Port of Portland officials say they must decide: Either they allow a pair of ospreys to continue building their home on the megaberth pier ... or the nest is history.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Two ospreys are building a nest at the end of Ocean Gateway Pier II, forcing port officials to consider removing the growing pile of branches and twigs before it interferes with the coming cruise ship season.

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Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Two ospreys have taken up residence at the end of the Ocean Gateway Pier II, working together this week to construct a nest atop part of the “megaberth” that was completed last September. “We need to figure out how to deal with it as soon as possible,” says Bob Leeman, the city’s port manager.

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The pair is setting up housekeeping rather late in the season -- most ospreys around Casco Bay built their nests in March and are sitting on eggs by now, according to a state wildlife biologist.

Bob Leeman, the city's port manager, inspected the half-built nest Friday afternoon, strolling to the end of the new 1,000-foot-long pier that juts into Portland Harbor. The single osprey guarding the nest flew away as Leeman approached.

The tangle of sticks measures about a yard across and sits on an electric capstan that crews use to wind a ship's mooring lines onto a nearby bollard.

"This could be a problem for us," Leeman said, holding an umbrella in the rain and wind. "We need to figure out how to deal with it as soon as possible."

Ospreys have nested at other locations in the port without incident, Leeman said, but this is a first for the so-called "megaberth," completed last September. The pier is a passenger walkway that isn't open to the public. Ospreys often nest high on tree branches, utility poles, cranes and cell towers.

Cruise ships are scheduled to start visiting Portland on June 1, but no ship is expected to use the megaberth until Sept. 8, when the 2,250-passenger Enchantment is expected to dock in Portland, according to the Port of Portland website.

Leeman said he planned to contact state wildlife officials for guidance on when and how the nest may be removed legally from the pier.

Federal law prohibits disturbing any bird's nest that contains eggs or chicks, said Scott Lindsay, a biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Because the pier probably won't be used for four months, port officials could decide to leave the nest alone, Lindsay said in a telephone interview.

If the ospreys finish the nest and lay eggs in the next few days, any resulting chicks probably would be mature enough to fly and leave the nest by mid-July, Lindsay said.

However, Lindsay said, if port officials decide to leave the nest undisturbed, they may want to shore it up in some way to protect the birds through the nesting season.

"It's not a good site," Lindsay said of the pier. "It could be a last-ditch effort. This may be a young pair, or it could be their second nest of the season. The first nest could have been disrupted in some way."

Osprey nesting sites range from remote islands to highly developed coastal neighborhoods, Lindsay said. They spend the winter in warmer southern climates and return to Maine to breed.

There are thousands of ospreys in Maine, including about 1,000 nesting pairs, wildlife officials reported in 2011. Also called fish hawks, they are known for spotting fish from high above the water, suddenly diving down head and feet first, and emerging with fish clenched in their talons.

Osprey populations in Penobscot Bay and farther Down East have dropped in recent years as bald eagle populations have grown, Lindsay said.

In the future, Lindsay said, port officials may want to install steel rebar, an owl decoy or a rubber snake at the end of the pier to discourage ospreys from nesting on the capstan and bollard. 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Bob Leeman, the city’s port manager, inspects a half-constructed osprey nest on a mechanical capstan at the end of the pier at Ocean Gateway Pier II on Friday. Leeman said he planned to contact state wildlife officials for guidance about when and how the nest may be removed legally from the pier.


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