Osprey nests can be spotted all along U.S. 41 in Lutz and Land O'Lakes. You also can find them atop light poles at high school football stadiums in Hillsborough and Pasco.
In Dunedin, "osprey cameras" give online viewers an up-close look at nests atop poles.
And in Lithia, the osprey is such a frequent flyer among the stanchions that neighborhoods and shopping centers share its FishHawk nickname.
The protection programs instituted by TECO and Duke Energy more than a decade ago have helped the ospreys find nesting spots atop the poles and avoid unintended deaths.
"I think the platforms help a lot, all programs like that help," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission research scientist Tim Dellinger said.
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Osprey populations in Central Florida took a nose dive in the 1950s and '60s. It's speculated that was at least in part due to the use of DDT, an insecticide.
"Our records indicate that the (osprey) population has been growing since the late 1970s," Conservation Advocate with the Clearwater Audubon Society, Barbara Walker said. "We think that coincides with the DDT ban."
With the rebound in population, ospreys have made homes all over Florida and especially in Central Florida with its numerous lakes, tributaries and estuaries.
And that meant more nesting atop utility poles, where they can look for fish and spot predators.
Bald eagles, which sometimes nest on the man-made platforms, can attack osprey nests during the day; great horned owls are a danger at night.
"Ospreys love the tops of power lines because they need a 360-degree view of the surrounding area," Walker said. "They (ospreys) will sometimes nest in trees but they need room around the nest and that's why you see them on top of light poles and cell towers, too."
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The surge in osprey nesting came into conflict with power lines maintained by local power companies.
"We were seeing a number of bird-related outages," TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. "So we brainstormed and came up with a solution to protect our equipment and the animals."
TECO's Avian Protection Program helps the company identify at-risk species of birds, documents birds that use high-risk electric equipment for nesting, recommends appropriate equipment retrofits to minimize electrocution risk and develops bird-friendly surveys within the service territory.
TECO and Duke Energy have stepped in to build nesting platforms. TECO has built more than 30 platforms in Hillsborough and Polk Counties since 2004. Duke has constructed nine platforms in Pinellas County along with 59 deterrent mechanisms since January 2013.
Duke Energy builds most of the platforms in Pinellas County. TECO platforms are made of composite material and look like wooden pallets on top of lighting poles.
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Duke uses a platform that looks like a satellite dish on top of their poles. Walker predicts that by the end of the year, these organizations will have combined to spend $100,000 on urban osprey management.
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The nests are a welcome sight to both experts and novices.
"When I was 21, driving around (Tampa), I would see them occasionally and it was a surprise," Walker said. "Now, I look around and I see them everywhere."
Walker said that the Clearwater Audubon Society has counted more than 400 osprey pairs in Pinellas County and anticipates similar numbers for Hillsborough County. That number is only an estimate of the true population.
"What we've found in the county (Pinellas) is that there are so many new nests, we're just adding to that number annually," Walker said. "There's just so many and they could be on private property where we can't go, it's hard to pin down an exact number."
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The ospreys are quickly becoming part of local lore.
"We claim them as our falcon," said Leto High football coach Matt Kitchie, who has a pair nesting atop one of his lighting stanchions. "We use them for a little bit of inspiration, when I'm talking to the kids, I like to point them out."
Kitchie remembers how their population was almost nonexistent decades ago.
"I remember when I was a kid, when there were no ospreys, when they were almost extinct," Kitchie said. "Now, I drive home on the Skyway (bridge) and they're everywhere — it teaches our kids about conservation."
Kitchie even said it's not uncommon to find a fish carcass on the track at Leto, obviously dropped by the unofficial mascots of the school.
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The collaboration between Duke, TECO and conservation programs appears to be giving ospreys a foothold in the region.
"We've noticed a decline in the number of ospreys in South Florida but in parts of Central Florida, they're doing really well and numbers are high," Dellinger said.
Conservationists are still trying to get a grasp on osprey populations in the Tampa area.
They also need help locating at-risk nesting sites. Ospreys are particularly at risk in May and June as winter hatchlings are reaching maturity and making their first forays out of the nest.
Anyone interested in helping to track and report incidents of at-risk nests can call Walker at (727) 798-2385. Additionally, the website osprey-watch.org has a global community of osprey watchers, where advocates can report activity in their area.
Contact Andy Warrener at firstname.lastname@example.org.