CARLYLE —The sign outside Carlyle High School’s football field proudly proclaims the facility as “The Home of the Indians.”
For the past several months — and hopefully the next several years — the Indians will share the field with families of osprey.
Technically, the osprey are not affiliated with Carlyle, Beckemeyer or any of the surrounding communities in Clinton County, but the large birds are a state-endangered species.
And, it is that state-endangered species status that brought Ameren Illinois crews, Illinois Department of Natural Resources officials and wildlife specialists to Carlyle’s football field Thursday morning.
A family of osprey built a nest atop one of the light poles at the stadium last spring. The nest had to be moved prior to Friday night’s home football opener.
“Last spring we noticed a lot of sticks below and saw birds,” said Carlyle athletic director Darin Smith. “Our shop teacher had said something about it. During the spring season we saw birds flying around and we kind of looked into it. It just kind of snowballed from there.”
After making a few phone calls, Carlyle officials learned osprey were a protected species and the nest couldn’t be disrupted if eggs were present. Since the nest was already active, it remained atop the pole until Thursday, when crews were able to move it about 40 yards north.
“There were babies,” Smith said. “The guy from IDNR was here a couple weeks ago and told us the birds had left the nest and we could turn the lights on. We’d been leery of turning them on. We didn’t know if they’d get hot and we’d start a fire because there are a lot of dry sticks.”
That problem was rectified Thursday when Ameren Illinois crews installed an 85-foot pole at the north end of the stadium. The pole was topped with a nesting platform provided by IDNR. Ameren linemen assisted Jacques Nuzzo, program chairman of the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, in moving the nest.
“We moved this thing beautifully, pretty much intact,” Nuzzo said. “One of the things we couldn’t see, if you see the utility pole, the nest was actually built around the pole. The utility pole stuck up about eight inches above the cross arm. There was a hole (in the middle of the nest), I was like ‘Oh, I didn’t expect that.’ When we moved it, I kind of compensated. I used some of the material that fell down to patch up that hole.
“This is a perfect time of the year to do it because the osprey chicks are gone, so there is no chance of getting attacked by osprey or messing with the chicks or blowing them off eggs. When they come back in the spring, it’s just going to be a little different spot.”
To free the nest from the light pole, Nuzzo and lineman Josh Loyet used a bucket truck to reach the top of the pole. Nuzzo had to remove a number of sticks that anchored the nest to the pole, then lift it over the pole and pull it into the bucket.
Nuzzo said the nest weighed about 40 pounds.
“They add a little bit every year, but not as much as eagles do,” he said. “Eagles add a lot of material every year. Mainly what they’ll do is more housekeeping. When they come back they’re going to put some fresh greenery or softer stuff in the middle, rearrange some sticks, or add some sticks. It’s just like general housekeeping.”
After removing the nest, it was simply a matter of placing it atop the newly installed pole.
It was the first time Nuzzo had completed such an operation.
“Next spring when they come back they’re going to see their nest is gone, but they’re going to see it’s nearby,” he said. “Hopefully, they just kind of go over there. It’s worked really well in the past. This is my first time doing it, but I’ve read about it and I’ve known people that have done it.
“Really, honestly, it’s not a big deal other than you have to set this pole 12-feet into the ground and get bucket trucks. The manpower behind it is a lot.”
Actually, the work has become somewhat commonplace for Ameren Illinois. The utility paid costs associated with moving the nest.
“We’ve over the last eight years have developed a pretty extensive avian protection program,” said Riley Adams, manager of electric initiatives at Ameren Illinois and manager of the utility’s avian protection program. “We’ve moved several osprey nests, and several other types of nests, usually at the request of IDNR. We try and coordinate with them because we have the resources to do it. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the community.”
As for Smith and Carlyle High School, they’re happy to share the field with the osprey.
“That’s been kind of a running joke — 'Carlyle Osprey,'” he said. “That would be a cool nickname. There is no guarantee that what we’re doing will work. We may get some new lights out of the deal. We can make all these osprey poles and get some new lights.”