The osprey had picked a fairly tough spot for a home — a construction crane at a complex in the Wharf area of Southwest Washington’s waterfront.
The area is a perfect habitat for osprey, but the location of the nest worried many neighborhood residents and environmentalists. Experts suspected that the birds had chicks up there but couldn’t be sure and estimated that they would be about four weeks old.
On Thursday, the Wharf’s developer — PN Hoffman — at the site along Seventh and I streets SW — said it and local wildlife experts had successfully relocated the ospreys and three of their baby birds from the crane to Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary in southern Maryland.
The osprey and their nest first came to the attention of wildlife experts in the region after a nearby resident noticed one of the birds flying around a crane at the project. She took pictures and sent them to the National Audubon Society, which then became involved along with the District’s Department of Energy and Environment.
Environmentalists were concerned about what would happen to the birds.
According to the website of the Chesapeake Bay field office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an osprey nest “can be removed without a permit if the nest is inactive. A nest is considered inactive if there are no eggs or young present in the nest. To remove an active nest requires a permit.”
According to the Fish and Wildlife site, ospreys are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But that Web page was last updated on April 20 of last year, and wildlife experts are concerned that, as with many environmental rules and laws, the Trump administration has changed the guidelines of the century-old mandate.
Some of the birds that are currently protected under the act include the bald eagle, snowy egret and great blue heron. The act was meant to protect migratory birds that were near extinction after they had been hunted or poached for their feathers.
But now the interpretations of the law and how it will be enforced are a bit up in the air after the Trump administration put out a legal opinion on the measure in December.
Some experts said that how the longtime measure is being enforced and interpreted is “still a moving target.”
There has been guidance from the administration that the law would not be used as it has been in the past to hold people and companies accountable for hurting or killing animals, according to wildlife experts. Over decades, companies have covered oil pits, changed lights on communication towers from steady to blinking and undertaken other efforts in cooperation with the act.
It is not uncommon for ospreys to make their nests on a man-made object, and a construction crane is attractive because it is a safe, secure location. Also, being close to the Anacostia gives the ospreys “great access to the river,” according to Dan Rauch, the city’s wildlife biologist.
In 2009, there was another situation in the Anacostia area involving ospreys and a nest, according to Rauch. A construction company left a crane up over the winter, and ospreys came, set up a nest and laid eggs. In that case, Rauch said, even though the construction company wanted to start work and use the crane, it had to leave the nest alone and wait.
Unfortunately, he said, the eggs didn’t survive due to a bad heat wave that season.
In the case of the osprey at the Wharf, Rauch and others were relieved that it worked out well. He said two crane technicians helped in carefully removing the three young osprey from the nest in the 120-foot tall crane.
According to wildlife officials, Belfast Valley Inc. was the firm operating the crane. Belfast Valley and other companies obtained all the necessary and proper approvals from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to move the osprey from the nest.
The young birds, Rauch said, were about the size of a softball and pretty much slept through being moved from the nest to a softly lined basket and out to their new home.
Rauch said they “looked stress free and were getting well fed and looked great.” He said osprey are not aggressive animals and the mother osprey was not in the area when the chicks were taken.
While it is not ideal, he said, for the parents not to be around to raise the chicks, “we knew it was not going to be an option” in this case. He said there is better and safer wildlife habitat at the Jug Bay location than on the Patuxent River. He said one concern is that young chicks tend to be unstable and could easily fall out of the tall crane and onto concrete.
At Jug Bay, he said the chicks were placed in three, separate nests and were in “fine shape.” He said they were in nests where the parent osprey had lost a chick. It is typical for osprey to take over caring for other chicks, experts said.
Going to Jug Bay, he said, was the “best solution for the chicks, the adult osprey and the [company] as well.” Rauch said wildlife experts will continue to check on the osprey over the next few days to make sure they’re getting fed and cared for in their new home.