MISSOULA — Osprey won’t be playing centerfield at Missoula Osprey games this summer.
The platform beyond the outfield fence where the birds usually nest was usurped by Canada geese before the osprey returned in early spring.
The geese and their newly hatched brood left the nest the second week of May, but not in time for the osprey or the Osprey, University of Montana biologist Erick Greene said Tuesday.
“There’s not going to be a pair on that platform out there, so (baseball fans) won’t see them, at least not the way they have in the past,” said Greene, who’s part of a team monitoring some 200 osprey nests around western Montana.
After at least two attempts at making their nests of stick and baling twine elsewhere in the area, the osprey pair was allowed by NorthWestern Energy to build a home on an electrical pole alongside the Milwaukee Trail. It’s roughly 500 yards to the south, and within sight of the birds’ old haunts, which have sat vacant for three weeks now.
Power company employees have given the nest a “haircut” to keep dangling branches from coming into contact with the lines. Greene said the female osprey laid her eggs the last week of April, a week or two later than usual because of the displacement. They should be ready to hatch by mid-June.
The Osprey baseball team opens its Pioneer League baseball season June 20-21 with a two-game home set against Helena.
“It’s a bit of a bummer, but I still think he’s going to show off to the fans when he catches a fish,” team vice president Matt Ellis said of the male osprey.
The osprey chicks won’t be visible until they begin getting big enough to fly, which Greene guessed would be mid-August or later. The baseball regular season ends Sept. 8.
“We think they’re going to come back (to the platform) next year because it’s a good nest,” said Ellis.
Greene, the team and the Missoula Parks and Recreation Department plan to place chicken wire or a similar obstruction over the nest next year so the geese won’t stop there. They’ll remove it when the osprey get to town,
The fish hawks returned to the empty stadium nest for the previous seven summers. The platform replaced an old nest on a power pole several hundred yards to the west that was removed during a redevelopment project at the old Champion lumber mill site.
Greene said his research team has been keeping track of three nests on the stretch of the Clark Fork through Missoula – in Hellgate Canyon at the Riverside Health Care Center on East Broadway, at the baseball stadium, and at the intersection of Reserve and Mullan.
Greene said the latter nest was also overtaken by geese this spring, with unhappy results.
“That (osprey) pair started building on a nearby power pole and the female was electrocuted,” said Greene. “It’s really sad in general, but we’ve been taking blood and feather samples from her chicks since we started this study. She and her mate have been incredibly productive. They’ve been the longest-running successful osprey pair around here, at the busiest intersection in all Montana.”
The mate-less male gravitated toward the female at the nest at the Hellgate site, which sports an osprey camera.
“Then her mate got back and this other guy was there and so there were fights … all sorts of stuff going on. Two pairs of geese on osprey nests started this whole kind of domino effect,” said Greene.
Donna Gaukler, director of Missoula Parks and Rec, said the idea of building a second platform for the ballpark osprey was seriously considered. But with the cooperation of NorthWestern Energy, the power pole was settled on as a one-summer solution. That nest will be removed when the osprey fly away.
Meanwhile, Ellis and Greene will meet Monday to discuss the educational opportunities afforded by the live osprey.
“We’re working on some fun stuff,” Ellis said. “We’ve always done something different to promote the osprey nest, like telescopes on the concourse and those kinds of things. Our goal is to do more eduction on the osprey and what they’re about, especially when incidents like this happen, so people aren’t misinformed.”
But what about the geese? The adults left the nest with her fluttering puffballs the first night Julie Toenyes saw them.
Toenyes, who lives near the ballpark on Second Street and was the first to detect the goose in the osprey nest, is worried.
“I have looked high and low for the geese along the river nearly ever since,” she said Tuesday. “There is no sign of them. About two days after the goose and goslings left the nest, the river started rising real high. Not a good place for very little goslings.”