April 29, 2014

Decatur Rental Store Helps Illinois DNR with Endangered Species Project

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100_1713In 2013, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) embarked on an eight-year program to rebuild the Osprey population throughout the state of Illinois. They started this venture by constructing hacking towers, which are essentially large bird houses, and then elevating them about 20 feet to raise and release the birds. To help raise raise the 4,500 lb. hacking boxes, the Illinois DNR called on Altorfer Rents in Decatur, Illinois for the use of a Cat Telehandler.

Altorfer Rental Store Manager Jeff Doyle was very involved in this project, and was recently invited to watch this first set of young birds arrive to their new home.

“This was a very interesting project, unlike anything I’ve been involved with,” says Doyle. “These particular birds were only six weeks old. Much bigger than I anticipated!”

The Illinois DNR established the first hack site last year at Anderson Lake, south of Havana, Illinois, and recently completed the second site at Lake Shelbyville in Illinois.

Like several bird species, the Osprey population fell to effects of the DDT pesticide in the 1960s, said Patrick McDonald, Illinois DNR Wildlife Biometrician and Project Manager for the program. From exposure to the pesticide, bird egg shells have become thinner and more frail, breaking under the bulk of the mother bird.

Tih-Fen Ting, an associate professor of environmental studies at University of Illinois Springfield and principal investigator for the project, said without conservation efforts, future Osprey generations will be at a loss for valuable research opportunities.

“The Osprey is a very unique raptor; it’s the only of its kind found to only eat fish,” said Ting. “They have a significant ecological role and function to play in the food chain.”

Local union electricians, carpenters, iron workers, painters, and others, collaborated to build the hacking structure, allowing the project to progress both easily and swiftly.

Jason Drake, training director of the Midstate Electrical Training Center who heads the project’s construction, said the project is a great way for union construction trades to give back to nature and aid in the task of increasing an endangered species population.

As the project began, the pieces for the deck and hacking box were assembled at the site and raised on top of utility poles by a telehandler donated by Altorfer.

“The telehandler made it possible to accomplish the work on time,” says McDonald. “I was quite impressed with how easily it lifted the entire platform and box into place.”

One side of the hacking box is made of metal bars, allowing ventilation and a view so the birds can become familiar with the area.

Heat is not a problem for the birds of prey, as they control body temperature through panting, much like dogs, McDonald said.

The most recent hacking site was completed in June, and is now home to five young Ospreys from Virginia.

The birds will be kept inside the hacking box until they reach fledging, or flight-ready age, which usually occurs about 55 days after hatching.

A graduate student, research assistant, and two field technicians from the University of Illinois Springfield will tend to and track the birds, feeding them twice a day.

“The goal is to release several birds over several consecutive years and reach the point where they are able to build up their population by themselves,” says McDonald. “Within 20 years or so, we hope to remove Osprey from the endangered species list.”

Source: Decatur Herald & Review.