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Osprey chicks to make new home in central Illinois

July 13, 2013 at 07:14 AM

The State Journal-Register

Five osprey chicks from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia arrived in Illinois Wednesday night, the first step in an eight-year program to re-establish nesting ospreys in the state.

The osprey is a fish-eating hawk that is listed as endangered in Illinois.

Young birds are loyal to the places where they were raised, often returning as adults to nest. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources wants to take advantage of that tendency by placing the chicks in a specially designed nest box at Anderson Lake southwest of Havana.

Graduate students from the University of Illinois Springfield will monitor the birds, leaving food and keeping the area clean until they are old enough to leave the nest.

The process is known as “hacking,” a falconry term for gradual release. When the birds are ready to fly, the doors of the hack box will be opened so the young ospreys can test their wings.

Students also will attach radio transmitters so they can keep track of the ospreys’ movements.

The intent is for many of the imported birds to return “home” to Illinois to raise their own families.

Over the life of the project, biologists hope to release 52-55 ospreys, said Joe Kath, DNR endangered species program manager.

Food is no problem.

The Illinois Natural History Survey’s Illinois River Biological Station is providing all the Asian carp the birds can consume.

“They go out routinely and shock for Asian carp control,” Kath said. “They are just throwing it in a freezer for us.

“And we bought a brand-new freezer that stays at Anderson Lake. Fish, food, for the next eight to 10 years is not going to be a problem.”

The young birds were driven to Illinois from Langley, where they were removed from nests located too close to the airport.

Patrick McDonald and Bob Bluett of DNR shared the driving duties over the 14-hour trip with five young birds housed in cardboard cartons.

“It was a blast,” McDonald said of the trip. He has worked for the World Bird Sanctuary in Missouri for several years, and has experience with raptors.

Their first stop was the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, where the birds received a quick health checkup, were banded and received some extra fluids. Researchers then drove the birds to the hack site at Anderson Lake to put them in the nest box after nightfall.

Illinois has patterned its osprey project after successful programs in Iowa and Ohio.

“They have had great success doing exactly what we are doing,” Kath said. “Our chances of meeting our recovery goals, taking the first step moving from endangered to threatened status and then from threatened to de-listed are very good.”

Ospreys are considered endangered in Illinois because so few breed here. They regularly are seen migrating through in the spring and fall, but few stay to nest.

Kath said he hopes the reintroduction project changes that.

“Our recovery outline is written for eight years, total,” Kath said. “We may extend that to 10 years if we feel it is necessary.

“But we feel we can reach our recovery goals in eight years.”

A second hack site is planned for Lake Shelbyville next year.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him at


Hunting blind giving birds a 'lift'

HAVANA — A hunting blind designed to lift disabled hunters as high as a tree stand for deer is being adapted for a new use.

This spring’s record flooding along the Illinois River complicated efforts to set up a release site for the osprey chicks that arrived at Anderson Lake Wednesday night.

The plan was to build a substantial, permanent structure that could last for a decade.

“But our hack site was 14 feet under water, and is still under water,” said Joe Kath, endangered species program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

“We couldn’t get heavy equipment back there, so we had to revert to an alternative plan.”

After a lot of research, Kath said he learned that DNR had five Huntmaster blinds at various sites around the state.

Since the blinds are not needed until hunting seasons start up in the fall, Kath said one was loaned to the osprey program for the next few weeks.

“We needed something that can raise 15-20 feet in the air, and it needs to be safe because people will be working there,” he said. “They just said, ‘Return it in the condition you got it.’

“For a last-minute alternative, it will work,” he said. “It will do the job.”

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