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Man vs. bird: Ospreys culprits in outages again

Brainerd Public Utilities crews spent Monday night cleaning up after local birds, which officials said have started to become a nuisance. Two power outages in the city Monday night were caused by ospreys, said Scott Magnuson, BPU superintendent. ...

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An Opsrey nest on platform added to the top of a power pole by Minnesota Power in Cass County. A power outage can be caused when a branch from the nest falls and lands across two power lines, causing a short, Scott Magnuson, BPU superintendent said. Brainerd Dispatch file photo.

Brainerd Public Utilities crews spent Monday night cleaning up after local birds, which officials said have started to become a nuisance.

Two power outages in the city Monday night were caused by ospreys, said Scott Magnuson, BPU superintendent. Overall the city dealt with three outages.

The nearly simultaneous outages affected northeast and southwest Brainerd, Magnuson said. The first outage affecting northeast Brainerd was caused by a tree falling on a power line, and lasted about an hour and a half.

The second outage lasted just over an hour, affecting southwest Brainerd, was caused by ospreys, Magnuson said.

"There was a tree on the line, and we had a small outage, and just got that cleared up, and then we had another one, that was the birds building a nest," Magnuson said. "Got that one cleaned up, and then we had another one, that was the birds again."

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Ospreys were building nests on top of a utility pole, which can cause a power outage when a branch falls and lands across two power lines, causing a short, Magnuson said.

Ospreys were also the cause of a May 3 power outage in west Brainerd. The BPU is starting to see more issues with ospreys causing power outages, Magnuson said.

Last summer, BPU crews worked at the substation in northeast Brainerd to provide alternative places for the birds to nest, so they don't cause issues. Crews erected a power pole with a platform on top, so ospreys could build a nest there and away from the utility poles.

"Eventually they move over to the nest," Magnuson said. "In theory, that's what they normally do."

Crews are looking at setting up a similar pole near the body of water north of Brothers Motorsports, Magnuson said. They've also placed plastic guards over the poles in northeast Brainerd so there's no place for the birds to build a nest.

"They just pop up," Magnuson said. "One just popped up over there by Anderson Brothers (Construction), just out of the blue."

BPU crews had their first run-in with ospreys last summer, Magnuson said. Crow Wing Power is also running into similar problems with the birds.

Magnuson said he talked to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about the ospreys, and the DNR said they "can't hurt the birds, and once there's a nest established, you can't remove the nest."

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Ospreys are listed as a nongame wildlife success story on the DNR's website, and a recent statewide survey from the nongame wildlife program found 608 active osprey nests in 30 Minnesota counties.

"Ospreys are expanding their nesting range into west central Minnesota and metro counties," reads the DNR's nongame wildlife success story web page.

A joint study from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 2011 details issues utility companies are having dealing with the osprey issue.

According to the study, "Ospreys are increasing in the Midwest and Great Plains. Ospreys benefit from the presence of power lines by using distribution poles and transmission structures for nesting."

Because ospreys feed on fish, according to the study, they are "most likely to nest near bodies of water including rivers, ponds, and lakes. Utilities should evaluate utility poles near high-quality habitats to determine the potential for nesting sites."

The study proposes erecting replacement nesting platforms near active nests in order to entice the birds to move their nest from the utility poles, like the BPU has done.

Locally, Central Lakes College's Natural Resources Program, Crow Wing Power, Consolidated Telephone Company and BPU partnered in early 2010 to erect an Osprey nesting platform and webcam at the CLC Brainerd campus.

No birds selected the new nesting site in spring of 2010 or 2011, although a pair of ospreys did attempt some nest building activity. In spring of 2012 the first pair of ospreys took over the platform, and after adding nest materials, two eggs were laid and hatched, and by fall of 2012 both chicks fledged.

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SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

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