Osprey flies over Bethany Beach Nature Center

An osprey flies over the Bethany Beach Nature Center this spring. The raptors, also known as sea hawks, return to the area in each spring to nest and raise offspring, and their construction projects sometimes put them in conflict with humans.

For the last four years, two of our neighbors on Eighth Street — Jim and Mike — had a serious osprey problem.

Every April, for the first three of those years, the same pair of ospreys migrated to the Bethany Loop Canal area and built a nest on our neighbor Jim’s roof. Since a Delaware law prohibited the removal of osprey nests between April and September (when ospreys migrate south), Jim’s in-laws decided to not remove the nest.

But after year three, due to roof damage, Jim and his wife, Mary, waited until October to remove the nest. They then installed an excluder, which would force the osprey pair coming the next April to build their nest elsewhere.

In April 2019, the ospreys arrived and, because of the excluder, were unsuccessful at building on Jim’s roof. But they went next door and built their nest on Mike’s roof. During the summer, in seeing damage to his roof, Mike planned to remove the nest in October, and to also install an excluder.

Then Jim, Mike and four neighbors began looking for a solution which would prevent the ospreys from choosing yet another neighbor’s roof in April 2020. Jim contacted the Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) for help. They recommended that he meet with Jodi McLaughlin.

Jodi monitors 40 nest sites for Delaware Fish & Wildlife, and maintains approximately 30 nesting platforms along the Inland Bays of Sussex County. Her two objectives in picking a new platform site were: to help the neighbors; and to have ospreys live in harmony in the neighborhood and continue to be productive in their new man-made home.

After evaluating potential platform locations, Jodi recommended building a new osprey platform on the land strip between the Bethany Loop Canal and the Salt Pond.

On Sept. 16, 2019, Maj. Marc Evans of the Bethany Delaware National Guard (DNG) asked Jodi to meet with him. He asked Jodi to move three old osprey platforms on the DNG property. She said she would, but that her highest priority was to help the residents on 8th Street solve an osprey problem by installing a new platform on the land strip, which the DNG also owned. So she asked Maj. Evans for his permission to do so.

Anticipating the DNG’s approval, she proceeded to build a new platform and acquire a 20-foot bulkhead pole, which she hoped would be high enough to attract the returning ospreys in April 2020. She also installed a critical “starter nest” inside the platform to entice osprey nesting.

In September 2019, the ospreys migrated south. So, in early October, Mike removed the nest from his roof. He was unable to install the same excluder that Jim used, but he was determined to install some deterrent, before next April’s migration, to force the ospreys to go elsewhere.

On Oct. 24, 2019, Maj. Evans called Jodi to say that the DNG needed an existing organization to sponsor her project. In early November, Jodi met with Chris Bason, the executive director of the Center for the Inland Bays, to request CIB’s sponsorship. Chris agreed and then notified Maj. Evans that the CIB would sponsor Jodi’s efforts.

When December arrived, Jodi expressed concern that, if she didn’t receive DNG approval soon, she would have to take her boat — which was needed to carry the pole and platform across the canal — out of the water. When two neighbors, Alex and Matt, heard this, they volunteered to put their boats back into the water once she received approval.

On Dec. 8, Jodi received a “memo of approval” from Maj. Evans. On Dec. 11, Jodi and two volunteers from her “Team Osprey” took her boat to the strip, dug a 4-foot hole, and installed a pipe needed to hold the platform pole. Later that day, three other “Team Osprey” volunteers helped Jodi move the pole across the canal to the strip.

Jodi decided to install the platform on Dec. 14, so another Mike on 8th Street drove down from Wilmington to help. Jodi drove her boat to the canal, where she and eight volunteers attached the platform and the starter nest to the top of the pole, and tied two long ropes to it for pulling the pole upward. They built three wooden lifters, which allowed several volunteers to push the pole upward from one side, as Jodi and another volunteer pulled the platform up from the other side.

Soon after the pole dropped into the pipe, Jodi sent out a video showing the end-result that everyone had been working toward since April.

But two final questions remained:

(1) Would Mike find something for his roof that would send the arriving ospreys elsewhere?

In February, Mike and his brother drove from Ohio and installed a “bird spider” — a device whose legs continue to move in the wind.

(2) Last question: Despite all of everyone’s efforts, would the ospreys pick the platform to build their nest, or go to another local roof?

On March 18, Jane, our nextdoor neighbor, texted: “One osprey arrived near the platform this morning and has been calling all day. A mate arrived late this afternoon, and the calling stopped.” I forwarded Jane’s text to Jodi, who responded: “If they start bringing sticks to the platform, then they have decided to nest there.” The next day, Jane texted, “They are busy building a nest.” Success!

So, with the male bringing fish to the nest daily, the female laid three eggs, incubated them for about 40 days, after which three youngsters were born. And now, July 4, we have three growing youngsters who are flapping their wings and seem anxious to leave the nest. We want to express our gratitude to Maj. Evans and Chris Bason for their help.

We also want to express our enormous gratitude: to Jodi, for her expertise and persistent efforts; to our very supportive neighbors; and to the nine volunteers who helped Jodi build, install and raise the new home for the ospreys.

In addition to solving our neighborhood’s problem, your decisions to be involved, and your commitment to see this through to its successful completion, were invaluable contributions to protecting and sustaining one of Bethany’s prettiest natural and wildlife areas.

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