With biologist Erick Greene writing the final chapter, the story of a squatter named Clara came to an end Friday.
Last spring, the mother goose occupied an osprey nest perched atop a manmade platform at Ogren-Allegiance Park. This year, Clara’s attempts will be thwarted by a steel cage Greene installed on top of the platform.
“This was such a high-profile nest,” said Greene, a University of Montana biologist. “And there was so many (people) upset and letters to the Missoulian.”
Clara’s presumptuous move sparked a showdown between the mother goose and an osprey pair that arrived at their seasonal breeding grounds a bit later, but still eager to set up in the spot specifically designed for them.
It also resulted in hundreds of emails from concerned Missoula bird enthusiasts flooding Greene and geoscientist Heiko Langer, who helped Greene install the cage Friday.
“(Geese) have like a three-week advantage over the ospreys,” Langer explained. “They would establish themselves and lay their eggs and wouldn’t give up their nest.”
Oblivious to the controversy she had caused, Clara vigorously defended her newfound home from the ardent osprey pair, which desperately tried to reclaim the nest.
But who could blame her?
Geese normally nest on the ground on islands in rivers and ponds. With foxes, raccoons and dogs about – ready to devour her offspring – the platform was prime real estate for the mother-to-be. Nesting options are already slim for geese, whose numbers seem to be increasing every year, Langer said.
“Last year, they were joking to rename the Osprey team the Geese because they were already mating up here,” he said.
The osprey pair was stressed as they attempted, unsuccessfully, to build a nest in the stadium’s lights and atop a nearby construction crane. Those nests were continually taken down by Missoula Osprey and construction company management, creating even more community concern about the birds and their future family.
“It was so much,” Greene said. “People were getting really upset.”
Eventually, the ospreys built a precarious nest atop a 100-kilovolt line next to the Montana Natural History Center on Hickory Street – well in view of the mother goose, which was busy tending to her goslings. Before anyone could deter them from nesting there, the ospreys were anxiously awaiting a pair of chicks.
NorthWestern Energy maintained the nest, trimming and removing any wire the birds added to it.
Cage in hand, Greene on Friday rose above the baseball stadium in the bucket of a truck donated by Garden City Tree Service. He spent about 15 minutes arranging the cone over the osprey platform and securing it with wire.
It will keep the geese out for the next few weeks, while the ospreys are fly back to their breeding grounds.
This year, when the ospreys show up, Greene will climb into the bucket again and remove goose deterrent from the platform. Hopefully, the pair will move right in without any trouble from their noisy neighbors, which should be settled into their own nests by then.
“I suspect (the ospreys) will come back and take it over right away,” Langer said.
Greene echoed Langer’s optimism, but said that doesn’t mean they will have it easy. Their old nest is in rough shape; geese don’t maintain nests like ospreys are known to do.
Migrating geese have already established themselves in Osprey territory, roaming the outfield in pairs. It’s unknown if Clara is among them, but they’ve been eying the nest from the stadium, Langer said.
As Greene secured the wire cone over the osprey platform, the geese honked a noisy protest. Eventually, as if acknowledging defeat, the birds migrated toward the dugouts and away from the nest that is expected to be occupied by an amorous osprey couple in a few weeks.