Birds of prey find unlikely home at Westfield Mall – Capital Gazette

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Fresh seafood is on sale this summer at Westfield Annapolis Mall.

As many shoppers and diners have noticed in recent weeks, a pair of ospreys are rearing a chick on a light fixture outside the old Macaroni Grill, near the intersection of Generals Highway and Bestgate Road.

You don’t have to be an ornithologist to know that osprey typically nest near water, and parking seems like a ridiculous choice for birds that depend on fresh fish for food. But Dave Brinker, a regional ecologist with the Maryland Heritage Wildlife Program, an arm of the Department of Natural Resources, says the nesting site represents progress, population growth and a once endangered species that has survived by becoming more flexible.

“We’ve reached the carrying capacity of natural nesting sites,” Brinker says, noting that birds historically nested on top of dead trees. When he started working for the state in 1989, the osprey was still recovering from poisoning with DDT, a pesticide that thins eggshells and decimated populations of American raptors – another term for birds. of prey—until it was banned in 1972. In 1996, an extensive study revealed over 3,500 breeding pairs breeding on 427 Chesapeake Bay tributaries, with 1,492 pairs in Maryland.

Twenty-five years later, Brinker says, “We’re armpit-deep in the osprey.

But stay. Why shopping mall parking? “These ospreys are doing what nature tells them to do: look for alternatives,” Brinker said. “To an osprey walking off the beaten track, a lamppost in a parking lot looks a lot like a dead tree surrounded by water. Instead of the Chesapeake Sea, it’s a sea of ​​asphalt and humanity.

While he can’t know for sure, chances are these two lovebirds were raised on an unnatural nesting site, like a communications tower. When it was time to breed, the mall raptors weren’t looking for a tree, they were looking for something man-made, something like a large mall light fixture.

“We have ospreys everywhere, in all kinds of weird places,” Brinker said.

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The 1996 Chesapeake Bay Osprey Study found that 50% of mating pairs nested on channel markers, but since then the Coast Guard has redesigned the markers to make them less hospitable and, in some cases installed alternative nesting platforms. Utility companies have tried to move empty nests when the osprey interferes with transmission lines, thanks to programs like Baltimore Gas and Electric’s “Osprey Watch.”

In other words, well-meaning humans have convinced several generations of ospreys that they can nest anywhere as long as they are within reasonable proximity to water where fish abound. The Westfield Mall is less than a mile from Weems Creek and, as Brinker said, “they don’t mind going to the grocery store.”

The osprey usually begins breeding around age 3, mates for life, and can reach age 30, although seven to 10 years is a more likely average. The east coast osprey’s wintering range extends from Florida to Argentina, and they prefer to return to the same nesting site each spring if they raised chicks there the previous year.

Curtis Dingle, Westfield Annapolis facilities manager, said the mall initially called pest control when the osprey arrived several years ago, but has since chosen to leave the birds alone. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it is illegal to disturb osprey nests after the eggs are laid and until the chicks have fledged. No buyers complained about the nest, Dingle said.

Brinker said humans and mid-Atlantic ospreys have learned to co-exist, and the birds at Westfield Mall seem particularly well adapted, otherwise they would never have built nests at the mall. The main human threat now is discarded plastic. Ospreys like to line their stick nests with softer materials and don’t realize that things like plastic bags could potentially strangle their chicks. Example: There appear to be several plastic wrap sheets hanging from the nest at the mall. “They’re not slobs,” Brinker said, defending the birds.

There’s only one thing buyers should be wary of, and that is osprey remains landing on your car. “Pieces of fish could fall into the vent, and you don’t realize that until things really start to stink,” he said with a laugh. “It’s the kind of crazy stuff that happens once in a while.”

His general advice, in addition to checking the hood of your car if you park near an osprey nest, is to “have fun watching and appreciate that osprey populations have rebounded tremendously.”

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