We called her Clara. She was something of a home-wrecker, although she turned out to be a good mother in her own right.
Clara was a Canada goose who laid a clutch of eggs in the big nest on the power pole above the right field wall of the Missoula Osprey baseball stadium. Much to the dismay of the osprey couple that had been using that nest for several years previous.
The pending disturbance came to light last April, when birdwatchers around Ogren-Allegiance Park spotted Clara busy brooding before the osprey had arrived from their Central American winter migration. Within days, the Missoulian, the University of Montana, Mayor John Engen, Missoula Osprey officials, private raptor researchers and anyone else with an interest in birds had heard about the looming showdown.
“There were hundreds of emails going back and forth,” UM biologist Erick Greene said in December. “There ended up being a lot of people working behind the scenes on this.”
The stakes were high, ornithologically speaking. In addition to being one of the best-known osprey nests, thanks to thousands of baseball fans who watched the birds all summer between innings, the pair was a regular chick factory. The only better pair had a nest near the intersection of Mullan and Reserve streets, which also got co-opted by geese last spring.
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“That was the only osprey in our study that pulled off chicks every year,” Greene said of the eight-year research effort. “The female was electrocuted this spring after trying to build a new nest on a high-voltage line.“
Once geese get on eggs, they’re extremely difficult for osprey to chase away. Instead, the baseball birds first tried to build a new nest on one of the construction cranes working on the railroad trestle by the ballpark. Then they moved to a high-voltage line next to the Montana Natural History Center on Hickory Street. Before anyone could discourage them, the pair had produced a pair of eggs there.
“That was a 100-kilovolt line,” Greene said. “If a branch touched it, it would be instant deep-fried osprey. “The NorthWestern Energy folks were fantastic. They went over several times and carefully trimmed off the sticks and stuff hanging down.”
Meanwhile, the geese hatched their own goslings. Missoula Parks and Recreation Director Donna Gaukler is reasonably certain she got to watch them grow up.
“We had a pair of geese raise their young in Silver’s Lagoon all summer long,” said Gaukler, who could see the contested nest from her office window at the Currents Aquatic Center. “I believe that was them. There were six or seven goslings and they made it all the way through the summer.”
Geese greatly outnumber osprey in the Missoula Valley. And about one in 10 osprey nests gets colonized by goose families. To protect these nests, members of Raptor View Research placed cone-shaped “goose excluders” on the pole platforms as soon as the osprey headed south.
The cones will remain in place until next April, after geese have nested and before the osprey return. That should keep interspecies family squabbles to a minimum.
“I went to a baseball game later in the season, and the osprey were putting on their show,” Gaukler said. “They were carrying fish right over the stadium and eating on the power pole. It was a very happy ending.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.