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Supporting the City’s Osprey Nests

Seattle’s parks abound with wildlife, somehow finding a niche to fill in our urban environment. Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) stewards their habitat, doing what we can to ensure they have the shelter they need to thrive. Some of our efforts are guided by agreements we have signed, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty or the Bee Cities USA network. There are also regulations – federal, state, and local – that commit us to protecting these animals, including the Endangered Species Act. Wildlife, in general, is managed by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), but local jurisdictions like the City of Seattle are key implementers of habitat preservation management that support them.

A bird flies in the sky with a fish in its talons. Osprey image by National Audubon Society

In 2001, SPR developed a robust Wildlife Management Plan to guide our efforts. We seek to balance the needs of wildlife with those of humans in our city. This means some animals must be removed (such as rats). Some that cause damage are mitigated (Canada Geese). For others, we find ways to co-exist (beavers, seals, and bats). We even partner with the Woodland Park Zoo and others on scientific research to learn about these species in our city, through efforts like the Urban Carnivore Project, salmon restoration, and amphibian monitoring.

One important species to the ecosystem that we support is the osprey. This “fish hawk” is an agile bird of prey that migrates to Seattle in the spring to raise its young. Nesting near water, they expertly dive for their food, retracting their wings for the plunge, then rising out of the water with bent wings. Many landowners have placed nesting platforms near water to support ospreys, but sometimes they find unusual places to nest, including on top of light poles at athletic fields.

A light pole with a flat mesh platform on top, which holds a bird's nest. Dahl Park, Seattle

In the fall of 2022, SPR received a note from the public about osprey nests atop a field light at Dahl Playfield and also at Magnuson Park. The nests were impeding the use of this infrastructure, so SPR mobilized to find solutions. For the Magnuson pole, we worked with WDFW to identify an available nesting platform at the nearby NOAA property that could be used. So, we waited until nesting season was over and removed the nest. The nest at Dahl field had a different solution.

Building off previous work at Commodore Park in 2008, SPR’s electricians and wildlife manager worked to create a nesting platform above the lighting on the pole at Dahl Field. Staff removed the nest once the ospreys left for the year, built a metal nesting platform, and then replaced the nesting material to attract ospreys this year. We are excited to share that a pair returned and is raising their chicks there this year!

Wildlife are present and persistent. As such, the work to support ospreys continues. This spring a new nest was built on a field light at Lower Woodland Park. The nest and ospreys are protected for this season, and SPR will be looking for a solution in the fall so these birds of prey continue to find home here in our urban ecosystem. However, our current Woodland Park ospreys will have to get used to the lights this year, as lighting needs to remain on during scheduled use at the fields.

A tall light pole with a metal platform on top - on which sit nesting ospreys. At Dahl Field.

Have you seen an osprey or other nesting bird in our parks? Let us know so we can continue to support urban wildlife in Seattle. It is truly a treat to see these visible reminders of our connection to nature right in the city, and SPR will be always on the lookout to find ways to co-exist with wildlife in our parks.