Migratory bird causes construction disruption

Sabri Ben-Achour May 13, 2011

Migratory bird causes construction disruption

Sabri Ben-Achour May 13, 2011

Jeremy Hobson: Tomorrow is International Migratory Bird Day. It’s a day that celebrates our feathered friends who in some cases journey thousands of miles for food or better weather. But sometimes those birds make a pit stop at a very expensive hotel.

Sabri Ben-Achour from station WAMU in Washington D.C. has the story.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Not too far from the Capitol building, the District of Columbia Department of Transportation is building a footbridge over some railroad tracks for a park trail. At least, it was.

Gloria Jeff: An interesting turn of events is the best way I could describe it.

That’s project manager Gloria Jeff. And the ‘interesting turn of events’ is sitting on top of their crane. Dan Rauch is looking at it through some binoculars.

Dan Rauch: Oh here comes down one of the adults into the nest now. Four-and-a-half-foot wingspan.

A pair of Ospreys — large birds of prey — have built a four-foot nest atop the crane. Rauch is a biologist with the District’s Department of the Environment.

Rauch: Unfortunately, it thought it was just a tree. So it’s got a great view of the river, they’re safe from predators. So it’s a perfect place for a nest.

Yeah, perfect for the Osprey — not quite as perfect for construction. The birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; they may have flown in from as far away as the Amazon to sit on this crane. So this crane isn’t going anywhere for a couple months while the eggs hatch and the chicks learn to fly. District’s Department of Transportation and Gloria Jeff say they’re totally cool with this.

Jeff: It has posed an opportunity to partner with nature.

But outside of Washington, man and bird don’t always flock together. Jani Salonen owns Salonen Construction in northern Florida, where a pair of Ospreys built a nest on a crane on his barge.

Jani Salonen: We just completely out of pocket expense $38,000. That’s with the equipment rentals and payrolls.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will grant exceptions where human or bird safety is at risk, so Salonen applied for a waiver. But when he didn’t get it, he just relocated the nest himself, with help from the Audubon Society.

Salonen: There’ll be some penalties coming. Figure out what all that will be.

D.C. biologist Dan Rauch says there is a reason for the strong protections afforded migratory birds. He points to the passenger pigeon, a bird so numerous it used to blacken the sky for days as it migrated. In 1914, the last one in the history of the planet died in a Cincinnati zoo. And so in the scheme of things, says park ranger Jim Rosenstock:

Jim Rosenstock: A little thing like a trail project might need to have its schedule modified.

In Washington, D.C., I’m Sabri Ben-Achour for Marketplace.

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