One day this past spring, Carlyle High School Athletic Director Darin Smith noticed some birds flying around the northwest light tower on the Indians football field.
The birds kept coming back.
“We noticed the birds taking up sticks and things and they kind of centered around the pole on the far northwest side of the field over there. Then a short time later, during a baseball game in the spring, we noticed the birds again,’’ Smith said.
Principal Joe Wilkerson, who has since retired, made some phone calls and found out they were ospreys, a protected species of bird.
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“I told him that if you got the nest down before the eggs are laid that you would be fine. If the eggs were laid then you had to leave it alone because they were a protected bird. Long story short, the eggs had been laid and we’ve been dealing with it,” Smith said.
Smith and Carlyle High School administration were hesitant to turn on the upper tier of lights on the pole, for fear it would catch the nest on fire. But with the Indians football team scheduled to play its home opener under the lights against Red Bud on Friday, something had to be done.
So, officials from Ameren, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Jacques Nuzzo, program director of the Illinois Raptor Center, moved the family of ospreys on Thursday by installing a platform on an 85-foot pole near the football field.
Nuzzo, one of only few individuals in the state who is certified to handle ospreys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, then got into bucket truck with an Ameren Illinois employee and was taken up nearly 100 feet where he removed the nest from the northwest pole of lights.
“Ospreys are an Illinois state endangered species. We’re the only state in the union that where they are still endangered,’’ Nuzzo said. “In Southern Illinois and northern Illinois there are some, but the central part is where I think there is only one nest.”
“The idea is with reproduction programs, more educational programs and with people actually realizing what an osprey is, hopefully we can get them back to the status to where they are not an endangered species,” he added.
The osprey is a bird of prey and is one of a kind. Nuzzo said that the ospreys people see in Illinois are the same bird people will see in the United Kingdom and in Africa.
“And all they eat is fish. It doesn’t eat rabbits, it doesn’t eat mice, it eats only fish. That’s why it had the nickname of a fish hawk,’’ Nuzzo said. “Ospreys have the wingspan almost of a bald eagle, but the body mass of a red tail hawk. The wingspan is huge and even at 6 1/2 weeks old the wing span is 6 feet. It’s huge.
“Also, an eagle will skim the water to get its fish, but an osprey will actually submerge into the water to get a fish. It’s really a cool bird.’’