Every year, members of a different kind of family move in to Lake Wylie, and they have quite the waterfront view.
Perched on poles 20-feet above Lake Wylie, ospreys make their nests on the top of man-made platforms to lay eggs.
The raptor birds have a wingspan that can reach six feet and are an important part of the ecosystem. They are superb fishermen and breed by freshwater lakes. Before the platforms, ospreys made their nests on utility poles, channel markers and other perilous structures.
Thanks to the Piedmont Area Wildlife Stewards (P.A.W.S), a chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, there are now 25 man-made platforms on Lake Wylie for osprey to lay eggs safely and securely.
P.A.W.S. President Dr. Bill Jarman said that efforts to improve osprey habitats on Lake Wylie and within the Catawba River system started six years ago.
Thanks to grants from Duke Energy’s Habitat Enhancement Program and support from The Lake Wylie Marine Commission, the group creates and successfully installs nest sites.
“This was something that had been done in a lot of other places and it was a project we wanted to do here,” Jarman said. “We’ve had a very good response to ospreys using the nests, and people really enjoy seeing them.”
Using the grant money, the group buys materials, builds the poles and platforms, and even adds twigs to the top so osprey know they can make it a nest. P.A.W.S. contracts with local pile-driver Jerry Wilkens to secure the poles into the water and checks on the nests periodically by boat.
“Generally, it takes birds two years to adopt a nest and the same pair will come back year after year,” Jarman said. “We had over two-thirds of our nests used by ospreys, each producing about three chicks. Every year they are a marvel to see.”
Catching a glimpse
Osprey make a stop on Lake Wylie during their spring migration back from South America, Jarman said. In York County, ospreys typically nest between March and June and hatchlings stay in the nest for up to eight weeks. Fishermen can catch a glimpse of babies in early summer.
Ospreys are sometimes confused with bald eagles, but can be identified by their white underparts.
Osprey habitat locations on Lake Wylie include McDowell Park, Crowders Creek, at the mouth of Big Allison Creek, on Goat Island across from Ebenezer Point and main channels near the Catawba Nuclear Station. All the sites receive proper permitting and are marked. Boaters are asked to stay 300 feet from the structures.
“You can get a better view from a distance rather than from straight below,” Jarman said.
Eye on the future
Four new osprey nests are planned for this year on Lake Wylie, and two additional North Carolina locations are also planned, including one at the new waterfront park in Belmont.
P.A.W.S also installs underwater artificial reefs for fish and wood duck boxes. For more information or to request an artificial osprey nest in your area, call Jarman at 704-860-2015 or visit the P.A.W.S. website at www.gastonpaws.com.