Walk on the wild side: Osprey nest installed at Picture Butte reservoir

Osprey returning to the area have a new nesting structure at the Picture Butte reservoir. (Courtesy Alberta Conservation Association)

Osprey arriving back to southern Alberta after a long migration, will have a new nesting structure at the Picture Butte reservoir.

The nest platform, which was installed on a tall wooden pole, has been donated and built by AltaLink to be ready for the return of osprey this spring.

Local volunteers with the Walk On the Wild Side Society brought branches to build the starter nest.

“What we’re trying to do is get one of the higher predators in, which helps to balance the whole eco-system,” said John Kolk, a society member who farms nearby.

While osprey haven’t been seen in the area in recent years, Kolk said he has observed eagles at different times of the year, fishing or going after water fowl.

“They’re certainly good at taking ducks and a few things like that,” added Kolk.

Brad Downey, a senior biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association in Lethbridge, said projects like this are beneficial for a lot of species.

“It’s important for us to get some of these poles up in unique areas like this, and provide secure nesting sites for birds of prey, like osprey, ferruginous hawks, and other raptors in the province,” added Downey.

Selecting the proper location is vital. Fish account for 99 per cent of the osprey’s diet so the nest site must be near an adequate supply of fish, but also away from settlements.

At the same time, any nest poles that may attract hawks must be placed in areas that don’t negatively impact other species such as grouse or burrowing owls.

As a company that owns and operates power lines across Alberta, AltaLink says providing safe places for birds to nest is an important part of their environmental commitment.

“We are largely looking at how we can mitigate having conflicts with our power lines,” said Ted Zuurbier, Senior Environmental Advisor at AltaLink.

AltaLink also uses marking devices so birds can see power lines better, effectively decreasing bird collisions by approximately 50 per cent.

In many cases, AltaLink crews are relocating osprey nests, but this project is aimed at providing a starter nest that will attract birds to the site, near a public observation platform.

“This just has a pile of benefits, and we’re pretty excited about it,” said Kolk.

He added if they can attract osprey or eagles, the project can help to educate children through school trips, and encourage more people to embrace nature and use the nearby walking trail.