June 22, 2015

Have fish, will nest: Ospreys like Wells Fargo perch in Iowa

An osprey nest high atop a 55-foot pole in Des Moines, Iowa, is part of an effort to rebuild the osprey population in that state.

There’s a new arrival at Wells Fargo’s Jordan Creek office campus in West Des Moines: two new ospreys.

The birds joined their parents ― one of only 22 nesting pairs of ospreys in Iowa ― in a nest that Wells Fargo and Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources built for them atop a 55-foot pole.

The conservation success story began last summer when ospreys began building a nest atop the counterweights of a construction crane for a parking deck at the complex near the intersection of I-35 and I-80. The property’s six ponds and the ospreys’ renowned fishing skills soon created a new occupational hazard for the bemused construction workers: falling fish parts.

Kathy Stavneak, a project manager for Wells Fargo’s Corporate Properties Group, received photos of the nesting pair from her brother, Pat Schlarbaum, of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Leader of an effort to relocate young osprey from Wisconsin and Minnesota to Iowa and rebuild a population decimated by the pesticide DDT in the 1950s and ’60s, Pat confirmed the pair were among those birds.

Ospreys flying at Jordan Creek campus of Wells Fargo
Osprey nest atop construction crane
Osprey on a counterweight of the construction crane
Ospreys and nest pieces removed from crane
Building a new osprey nest platform in West Des Moines
Osprey nest at Jordan Creek campus of Wells Fargo
Ospreys flying at Wells Fargo’s Jordan Creek campus
Osprey watching over nest and eggs
Team members at Wells Fargo’s Jordan Creek office campus in West Des Moines have new neighbors: a pair of ospreys involved in a state conservation effort. (All photos by Jay Gilliam)
The raptors first appeared last summer (see arrow) when they began to build a nest atop a construction crane.
The ospreys made their perch on the crane’s counterweights, creating a new occupational hazard for construction workers below — falling fish parts.
(Left) Once the birds left on their annual migration to South America and the construction crane came down, Wells Fargo and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (right) carefully removed the nest pieces …
… Then relocated them in January to create a nesting area for the ospreys on a platform created for them atop a 55-foot pole.
All done: they osprey nest and platform are ready.
When they returned from South America in April, the raptors quickly went to work adding to the nest.
The female osprey keeps a close watch on her eggs before they hatched.

Then, with the birds gone for the annual migration of ospreys to South America in September (and the crane coming down), he worked with Leroy Imoehl and Mike Breckenridge of the Corporate Properties Group on a plan to bring the ospreys back.

That involved removing the twigs and nest pieces from the weights (which Pat kept in his office), designing and building a platform for the nest atop a 55-foot pole, getting the West Des Moines City Council’s approval in December, installing it in January (which turned out to be in subzero weather), and watching the skies.

“This is just a fantastic opportunity to share this biology,” Pat says.

Wells Fargo and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources both chipped in to roll out the welcome mat for the ospreys, which included adding bass, pan fish, and other larger fish to the ponds.

“They literally flew right back to us,” Mike says. “The male arrived first in April and the female shortly thereafter. They quickly went to work feathering the nest and adding to it from the pieces Pat had put up there. We installed an OspreyCam for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources so people could see these beautiful birds in action.”

Adds Mary Wenzel, head of environmental affairs for Wells Fargo, “We were so excited to learn of the birds’ return and support the conservation efforts there and those in Charlotte, North Carolina, where, for the third year, peregrine falcons also returned to nest on the 40th floor of One Wells Fargo Center. (Watch the FalconCam offered in an educational project with the Carolina Raptor Center.) “It’s always wonderful to hear about such examples and witness the local impact of environmental efforts.”

Pat figures the ponds, and nearby river and other fishing sources, factored heavily in the osprey deciding to nest at Wells Fargo. Their diet consists almost exclusively of fish.

While hunting, he says an osprey can spot a fish 200 feet away with eyes that can see five times more clearly than people’s and compensate for the refraction of sunlight off water. That ability allows them to strike their prey exactly where they are under the surface instead of where they appear to be.

An osprey flies in a slightly circular motion at about 25 mph, he adds, before diving for fish up to three feet underwater at about 40 miles per hour. They’re the only raptors with nose flaps that close when they hit the water.

Like the military aircraft named after them, ospreys also are the only raptors that can lift vertically from the water, using specialized joints at their wing wrists or “carpals.”

Pat says these anatomical differences set osprey apart among raptors since no other birds of prey combine these capabilities into one species. Along with falcons, they’re the most widely distributed raptor species worldwide ― found in all continents except Antarctica.

Because osprey bond to their territory and are social in ways that other raptors are not (if an osprey does not survive the migration, another often will take its place in the nest), Pat says he expects Wells Fargo team members to have osprey as neighbors at Jordan Creek for many years to come.

“I couldn’t be happier for them to have these charismatic birds part of their lives,” he says. “They are such wonderful ambassadors for clean water. I think Wells Fargo team members will reliably see osprey every year from April through September.”

Next year, that won’t include the fledglings that will learn to fly and, as all osprey do, head on their own to South America in September. But they’ll be back, too, he says.

“The fledglings will stay in South America next spring and come back after they’ve been there 22 months,” Pat says. “This interrupted migration is expected to give them an evolutionary advantage since most mortality occurs during the migration. They fly more than 3,000 miles one way and all the way across the Gulf of Mexico.”