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Savannah Osprey Eggs Returned to Nest

A pair of ospreys living atop a light pole on Whitemarsh Island got their eggs back Friday, a month after they were plucked from the nest.

“It was very satisfying to put that little family back together,” said Oatland Island Wildlife Center veterinarian Dr. Lesley Mailler who along with Animal Care Technician Jonathan Jackson rode straight up in the bucket of a crane to deliver the eggs.

The birds’ saga began March 29 when an electrical contractor working for Chatham County destroyed the big, messy stick nest to change the light bulbs on the 80-foot pole. In the process, workers removed the nest’s three eggs and brought them to nearby Oatland Island Wildlife Center. Mailler and Jackson arranged for the eggs to be taken to The Center for Birds of Prey – Avian Conservation Center in Awendaw S.C., outside Charleston. The center continued to incubate all three eggs, determining that at least two of them could be viable.

Back in Savannah, public outcry about the nest’s destruction prompted the county to start crafting a policy to protect active nests in the future. And the osprey parents immediately got busy rebuilding in the same spot. County Manager Lee Smith pledged their nest, located at the intersection of Islands Expressway and U.S. 80, would not be disturbed “unless a major public safety issue arises.”

Then family reunion plans got underway. Drone footage confirmed the ospreys hadn’t started a new clutch, clearing the way for the originals to return. Tim’s Crane and Rigging in Pooler offered the use of its 80-ton Liebherr crane and operator to return the eggs. An electrical contractor had rented from Tim’s to do the initial maintenance, but manager Kris Skinner said she was not aware at the time that the work would involve an active osprey nest. She jumped at the chance to undo the egg-napping.

“When they called and said there are two viable eggs I said, ‘let’s get them things up there,’” she said, donating its service, valued at $1,200.

On Thursday, Oatland volunteer Ron Suttle drove to Charleston to retrieve the eggs. When his vehicle’s fuel pump failed in Mount Pleasant, he rented a car to finish the trip, delivering the eggs to Oatland’s incubator around 8 p.m. On Friday morning Mailler and Jackson boarded the crane’s bucket with the speckled eggs nestled in a towel-lined bowl inside a cooler.

The mama bird stayed close by as they ascended, Mailler said.

“She was around. She never came real close to us,” Mailler said. “By the time we were back on the ground she had landed back in the nest. Then the other one came back with a fish.”

Osprey eggs typically hatch in 35-43 days. These were at least 30-days old when they were returned, and their imminent hatching put time pressure on the operation. Raptors readily accept eggs and even chicks into their nests, Mailler said, but she preferred to return them as eggs.

“You never know what the perfect solution is in these situations, but this was the closest we could get,” she said.

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