No, those aren’t baby bald eagles: Osprey hawk nests attract Vail Valley attention
GYPSUM — During his opening remarks at last week’s Eagle Valley High School graduation ceremony, Principal Greg Doan warned the audience to be wary of fish, sticks or poo falling from the sky.
For the past two years, Hot Stuff Stadium has been home to more than Devils athletes. A pair of osprey hawks have nested on a light pole at the high school field.
“They came last spring and (set up residence) on a northwestern light pole,” Doan said. “We tried to discourage them from coming back this year. We worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to find out what we could do but our prevention measures apparently just made the pole more attractive.”
While most students and staff don’t object to the osprey presence, Devils shot put competitors aren’t that fond of their neighbors.
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“The fish guts and poop and twigs on the shot put area aren’t very popular, with those kids” Doan said.
According to Craig Wescoatt, wildlife manager from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the presence of osprey at EVHS is actually evidence of a success story. He noted there was only one osprey nest, up near Sweetwater Lake, back in the 1980s.
“They have really started to spread out around the valley,” he said.
While the number of local nesting osprey pairs has increased, the hawks don’t always show the best judgment regarding where they set up house. The large nest on an electric pole along U.S. Highway 6 between Eagle and Gypsum is a prime example. A few years back CPW and Holy Cross Energy build a platform at the Gypsum Ponds in an effort to entice the birds to build nests at that location rather than on electric poles.
“They like nesting on power lines more than what we put up for them. Their choices are their choices,” Wescoatt said.
Because the nests are so visible, Wescoatt noted he gets frequent calls about “baby bald eagles.” People are confused because osprey chicks have white heads, Wescoatt said. However, he noted, bald eagles don’t develop their signature white head look until they are 5-years-old or older.
Look but don’t touch
With their nests located up high, osprey don’t really interact with people too often, Wescoatt noted. The one exception among all raptors is feeding time. Birds that have caught prey may choose to gorge themselves into a lethargic state. The raptor may appear to be injured and unable to fly, but really the bird is just stuffed.
Wescoatt added fledging osprey are now just leaving the nests.
“You may see some osprey that are just learning to fly. They may look awkward,” Wescoatt said.
He advised being cautious when approaching not only osprey, but any raptor hanging out on the ground.
“Give it some time, unless you see an obvious injury, and then call CPW,” Wescoatt advised. He noted wildlife managers have had good rehabilitation success by taking injured raptors to the Pauline S. Schneegas Wildlife Foundation in Silt.
Residents can expect to see osprey throughout the summer. Once fledglings leave the nest, the hawks’ range increases and they can be spotted all around the valley. They will stick around until fall.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.