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Aug. 20, 1999
Volume 37, No. 1

features

Leaving the nest: Osprey reintroduced to Iowa habitat
Twelve honored for staff excellence
After half a century, Herky is no longer just a "himky"
Travel Clinic visit may help ensure a bon voyage
The new Bionic Bus: One low-riding vehicle
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Leaving the nest: Osprey reintroduced to Iowa habitat

The osprey, moments before release, using their acute eyesight to bond visually to the landscape so they can return to the same spot when they’re old enough to nest. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Standing on a plywood platform supported atop four telephone poles is not the most secure feeling this fyi writer has experienced. Yes there is a guard rail, but the structure has a disarming tendency to sway with the breeze. Fifty feet is a long way down. If you’re an osprey, it’s the perfect home.

 
Project coordinator Jodean Cancilla steadies the ladder for volunteer Perin Bullers’s ascent. For safety, no objects are carried by hand; supplies and food are hauled up in a bucket. Photo by Rex Bavousett.  

That’s about the height of the hack tower on the shore of Coralville Reservoir from which four eight-week-old osprey were released on July 27 at 9:15 a.m. The release was done by the Macbride Raptor Project, a joint program of The University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College. If the project is successful, it will be the first time osprey will nest in Iowa in more than a century.

The only account of the osprey’s existence in Iowa is an obscure reference in an 1892 state record to an adult nest along the Cedar River. That reference, and the fact that osprey inhabit every contiguous state, was enough to convince the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that it was time to reintroduce these large fishing birds.

"Hopefully in the next few years we’ll have five nesting pairs in the state," said project coordinator Jodeane Cancilla. "That’s a minimum goal. We’d be happy with 20 or 30."

The moment of the release was one of quiet expectation. Everyone hopes to see the birds take flight, but in reality it can take days before a fledgling ventures out of its familiar home. As the gate went up, a group of about ten staff members and volunteers watched and waited.

 
Unseen by the osprey, Cancilla slides a breakfast of fresh carp into the hack box through a PVC tube. Photo by Rex Bavousett.  

At 10:20 a.m., Right Blue stepped off the platform. (The four birds, Right Blue, Left Blue, Right Pink, and Left Pink, are named for the identifying blotches of color the naturalists paint on their wings.) He dipped, levelled, and curved off behind a stand of trees. A few seconds later, he reappeared, approached the hack tower, and wheeled back out over the lake.

Gone.

Article by Sam Samuels

Postscript: Since that day, the other three osprey also left the hack tower. All four have been sighted successfully catching their own food.


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