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Two of three osprey eggs taken from nest atop Tampa crane never hatch

TAMPA — Too many days passed in silence.

One of the osprey eggs taken from a nest atop a crane at the Port of Tampa hatched last week, and the other two should have followed soon after. Audubon Center staffers were listening for the sound of a chick trying to fight its way free by tapping on the inside of its shell.

But there wasn't any noise coming from the two eggs in the center's incubator.

Finally, a veterinary technician broke both of them open Sunday and looked inside. One egg didn't contain an embryo and was never viable. But the other contained a fully developed chick that was ready to hatch.

Only it never did.

The chick may have lived if the nest had been left alone, said Lynda White, Eagle Watch coordinator at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. But maybe not.

There is no way to know for sure what effect the 90-mile trip to Maitland had on the egg, she said.

"The fact that we did have one survive the transit would suggest that the other one might have survived, too," White said. "But maybe something else went wrong."

Jani Salonen, the marine contractor who owns the crane, said he was saddened to hear that only one of the three eggs survived after he made the decision to move the nest last week.

Salonen's crew discovered the nest when it arrived at the port in early April to pick up the crane, delivered on a barge in February. He asked for permission to remove the federally protected nest, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to grant his request.

Salonen had several jobs lined up, including one at MacDill Air Force Base, but all of them required the use of the crane. He estimated that the weeklong delay cost him $38,000, including paying 12 idle workers and renting a barge he couldn't move.

When even the governor's attempts to intervene on his behalf failed, Salonen concluded that he would rather face a fine and possible jail time than allow the nest to continue to hinder his business.

He and several Audubon Society volunteers initially planned to relocate it to a nearby platform. They assumed there were live chicks inside, and the three eggs surprised them all.

Once the eggs were outside the nest, White said, they could not be put back.

"They would have had to wait for the adults to come back to get back on them to start warming them, and that would have taken too much time," she said. "They would have gotten chilled and all of them would have died."

Instead, the nest was taken down and destroyed. The eggs began their journey to Maitland.

During the trip, Audubon Society volunteers used disposable heating pads to keep the eggs warm.

While en route, the familiar tapping noise of a chick emerging from its shell began. The volunteers took it as a sign they made the right decision.

The chick that hatched is doing well at the center and expected to thrive. In about a week, it will be placed in a foster osprey nest back in Tampa Bay to be raised until it is ready to fly.

Even in the wild, some eggs just don't hatch, White said. Maybe the chick in this case had a genetic defect or simply couldn't muster the strength to break through the tough shell.

Salonen said he still believes taking down the nest was the best thing to do, but he admits he now has a soft spot in his heart for the ospreys.

"You always wonder if they would have been in the wild, would any of them have survived," he said. "Would it have been better or would it have been worse?"

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Two of three osprey eggs taken from nest atop Tampa crane never hatch 04/18/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2011 10:34pm]
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