Case Study: 
Osprey Nests

Location: American Water Systems Across the U.S. Help to Provide Nesting Areas for Large Birds of Prey

Ospreys are large birds of prey that grow close to two feet long with a wingspan that can reach six feet. They can be found in a wide variety of habitats and nest mainly near bodies of water that can sustain their main diet, which consists almost exclusively of fish. They generally build their nests 10-60 feet above ground using sticks, grasses, moss, bark and sometimes mud. A high perch aids the osprey while hunting as they have strong vision that allows them to see prey from high above ground. They occasionally will prey on rodents, small reptiles and other birds.

Ospreys are one of the species of bird who mate for life and who will build and return to a nest year after year. Although they can be found on every continent except Antarctica, their population declined rapidly from the 1950s to the 1970s because of the use of DDT. Since DDT has been banned from use and states have developed platform and reintroduction programs, the osprey population has grown and strengthened in the U.S. Despite recent improvements, the osprey remains on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “Species of Concern” list in the Mountain Prairie Region, on the state endangered species list in Indiana and Illinois, and on the threatened list in New Jersey.

Teams across the American Water footprint are helping to reintroduce ospreys into these areas by partnering with local conservation agencies and electric companies to locate suitable locations and build nesting platforms to aid these native birds.

Missouri American Water

In 2007, Missouri American Water teams partnered with the City of St. Louis and local electrical utilities to identify locations and build nesting platforms on four water treatment plant properties along the Mississippi River. Missouri American Water environmental teams drew up initial building plans, and then engaged the World Bird Sanctuary.

Ameren Missouri and Kansas City Power & Light donated the electric poles, which can cost up to $5,000 each, and local Boy Scout troops helped to construct the 4’x4’ wooden nesting platforms. Once completed, the platforms were attached to the poles, which were driven 8 feet into the ground to support the weight of the platforms and the nests, which can be large and very heavy. The five platforms reach 65 feet in the air, and although no nests have been built yet, according to plant employees, they have attracted the attention of both ospreys and eagles in the area.

Indiana American Water

After identifying the need for local osprey nesting spots, Indiana American Water partnered with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and local electric utilities in 2005 to develop an osprey reintroduction project. The teams worked together to locate suitable sites to build nesting platforms. Once the locations were identified, Indiana American Water worked with Vectren Corporation, the local electric company, to build the 3’x3’ wooden nesting platforms on top of 3 electric poles 30 feet above the ground.

The teams hope the platforms will attract the ospreys and ultimately serve as nesting spots so they return to the area they once inhabited. Indiana Department of Natural Resources provided the platform materials and the Vectren Corporation provided the use of the utility poles. Experts say that osprey reintroduction can take some time – years even – but teams are remaining optimistic that the platforms will eventually help to reintroduce the species back into the area.

To date, there are five nesting platforms in Indiana – two at Muncie Prairie Creek Reservoir, two at Richmond Middle Fork Reservoir, one at the Jeffersonville wellfield adjacent to the Ohio River, and one at the Newburgh wellfield adjacent to the Ohio River.

New Jersey American Water

When New Jersey American Water purchased the Raritan-Millstone water treatment plant in 2004, the property had an osprey platform already installed. It had been installed in the flood zone area of the plant and is now maintained by New Jersey American Water as part of its environmental stewardship program. Although the ospreys have not yet used this platform for nesting, employees report that local Red Tail hawks have taken advantage of it to perch and scan the surrounding grassy area for food.

In addition to helping ospreys, the team at New Jersey American Water has installed blue bird nesting and bat roosting boxes on the property. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection awarded New Jersey American Water’s Raritan Basin System a State Environmental Stewardship Award for demonstrating environmental stewardship beyond the regulatory requirements in 2009.

Virginia American Water

In 2009, Virginia American Water employees became concerned about two ospreys nesting on top of the water storage tank next to the Jetty’s Reach Well Station near Burgess, Va. The Northern Neck is a popular area for osprey since it is located on a peninsula that is bordered by the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers as well as the Chesapeake Bay. The Operations team worked with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to devise a plan so it could slowly transition the bird’s nesting site from the water tank to a tall, artificial nesting platform built by employees. Because osprey nests are large and heavy, the platform had to be strong enough to hold the weight. Employees constructed the platform using steel and pipe, and made sure that it was taller than the storage tank so that the birds would find it an attractive nesting spot. Once the structure was in place, the staff worked in an ongoing fashion over the course of two mating seasons. They continued doing this until at last, the birds chose the platform for their nests. Over time, the pine trees that had been growing near the site matured to a size the birds found attractive for nesting, and so they eventually relocated their nests again, from the platform employees constructed to the trees, a more natural – and perhaps long-term – nesting location.