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Osprey nests should stay up this year

"While one parent stays on the nest, an osprey living high above the South Whidbey High School track flies off in search of food. The birds' nest will remain in the light standard even after they leave for their summer hunting grounds.Matt Johnson / staff photoOspreys that have built their nests on structures owned by the South Whidbey School District and Fire Protection District 3 will not only enjoy a full, unmolested nesting season this spring, but should be able to return to the nests they built next year.Mating pairs of the protected predatory bird have again nested on a light tower above the South Whidbey High School track and on a communications tower on Cultus Bay Road owned by the fire district. Both pair have returned to build nests despite the nests having been removed by both the school and the fire district in recent years.Two years ago, school district personnel removed the high school nest only to have the birds return and rebuild it. District facilities manager Rick Pitt said that it is better to leave the nest alone now than to take it down. If the district decided to remove the nest permanently, it would have to build a nesting tower of a similar height nearby to give the birds a place to live during the spring.Since the birds don't seem to be harming the field lights, Pitt said he cannot justify the expense of building a new tower.It pretty much has to stay there, he said.Which, he said, is just fine since the birds have become an attraction at athletic contests and even during high school graduation.It's kinda neat, he said.High school soccer coach Mark Helpenstell said he considers the birds a good luck charm. During the past two boys soccer seasons, the school's team has won many games under the birds' watchful eyes. When the team went on the road for a playoff game in Blaine last year, Helpenstell and his players were pleased to find an osprey living beside the field. They won that game.The fire district learned the hard way that osprey nests are not to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary. Last fall a contracted maintenance crew removed an osprey nest from the district's 120-foot communications tower while doing repairs. Though it is acceptable to remove nests for necessary maintenance after the spring nesting season, district Chief Don Smith said it is easiest for his agency and best for the birds to leave the nest in place. According to the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, osprey nests may not be disturbed between April 1 and Sept. 15. The most critical period for the birds is the three months between April 1 and June 30 when the birds raise their chicks to the point at which they can fly and begin hunting for themselves. "

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