Bob Bestler

Beware: All heck can break lose when dealing with feathery friends

When I joined The Charlotte Observer as a reporter in 1969, one of my first assignments involved one of our fine feathered friends.

Workers who were preparing a driveway for a new Honeywell building had been told to work around a tree until a dove's newly hatched birds could leave the nest. It could take days or weeks.

It was a classic human interest story and got front-page play, complete with a photo of the nest.

The boss wasn't around to interview, but my story included this worker's quote about him: "Joe Smith (not his real name) is the cussingest man in Charlotte, but he'll spend $500 to save this bird." Not a bad quote, I thought.

Next day, all heck broke loose.

I heard from Joe Smith's son, then his lawyer, both assuring me that Joe Smith was not the cussingest man in Charlotte. He was a church deacon and the quote had devastated his wife, who was refusing to go back to their church. Retract it, NOW!

Well, we couldn't retract a guy's quote, but an assistant city editor did a little front page story that let his son and lawyer say old Joe isn't really the cussingest guy in Charlotte and is in fact a church deacon. Something like that. I don't know if any more came of it. Beyond my pay grade, you know.

I was reminded of my little plight when I read this week that the power company, SCE&G, had been caught removing an osprey nest from a utility pole in Mount Pleasant.

Nearby residents said the nest had been there for 15 years and were outraged when it was removed.

They contacted state wildlife officials and the Birds of Prey in nearby Awendaw. Their concern brought an investigation by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The osprey, a large eagle-like white bird with black markings on its wings, is not an endangered species, but it is protected under the federal Migratory Bird Act.

Disturbing an active osprey nest is considered a misdemeanor and carries a penalty up to $15,000.

Utilities can remove the nests to protect their lines whenever the nests are not being used, according to a story in The (Charleston) Post & Courier. Trouble is, ospreys are considered "nest fidelity" birds, meaning they are determined to build and remain in a specific spot.

These birds had definitely made a home here. At one point, as a pair of ospreys circled frantically overhead, a Birds of Prey worker found a broken egg on the ground. (Disclosure: My wife is a volunteer at the Birds of Prey.)

Jim Elliott, director of the Birds of Prey, suggested the power company install a nest platform at this site to protect its lines, as it has done in the past.

SCE&G can't exactly retract what it has done. But it is trying to atone: As of Wednesday, workers were busy rebuilding the nest. Ospreys, come home.

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