The Return of the Osprey Causes Problems in NJ

Cell phone towers are among osprey's favorite man-made perches

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Some cell phone carriers are rushing to bring customers the fastest service in New Jersey, but not near the Meadowlands. As News 4's Jonathan Vigliotti explains, there's one big problem that's holding up the plan - an untouchable bird. (Published Friday, Sep 28, 2012)

    An annual migration of osprey is well underway and closely monitored in New Jersey's Meadowlands, but the glorious return of the raptors is causing an unexpected problem.

    "There's one," said Jim Wright peering through a pair of binoculars.

    "I see another two in that tree over the river," said Michael Newhouse as he snapped a photo alongside Wright, his colleague at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. "We usually don't see this many in one spot."

    The federally protected and threatened osprey nearly went extinct in the 50s because of the pesticide DDT. With the chemical banned, the raptors' population rose again, but as the two men who look after the birds' welfare explain, the places osprey often nest are causing new conflict.

    "Many of the bird's natural habitat has been turned into homes and urban areas. Today we're seeing osprey nests on bridges, on homes, boats even on cell towers. Any tall perch they can find as they attempt to adapt to their changing surroundings and breed," said Newhouse.

    Once a nest is set, it's difficult to legally remove. Cell phone towers are among osprey's favorite man-made perches. The Sprint Nextel Corporation is one of the hardest hit. The company said it has halted high-speed upgrades on 700 towers nationwide.

    Robert Janney, who works a local television tower, can relate. Last year he had to delay repainting the structure because a pair of osprey had taken to one of the tower's platforms.

    "I thought that's got to be a pretty large bird. I hope I don't look like dinner to it," Janney said with a laugh.

    That's where Wright and Newhouse step in. The two men are like mediators between humans and animals as they try to find federally approved solutions to make both sides happy.

    "The goal is not to irritate the nest in anyway. We suggested he wait until migration, then covered the nest with plastic so that it wouldn't be damaged when the birds returned this past summer."

    The measures have worked. Ten years ago there were only a few dozen osprey nests in New Jersey. Today there are over 400.

    "They are a great symbol of an environmental comeback," said Wright.

    And Sprint is hoping to come back too -- when the osprey have moved on.  Work can continue later this fall when the osprey migrates south and there's no risk of disturbing an active nest.

    While companies are allowed to remove vacant nests, Robert Janney said he would keep his in hopes of luring back one of nature's great survivors.

    "They really do bring a sense of awe to my day. They're beautiful."