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Feds: Birds of prey won’t delay Pink House plans | Local News

NEWBURY — A pair of ospreys were spotted last week apparently nesting on top of the Pink House’s chimney. But the director of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is saying their potential mating plans won’t stop the federal government’s plans to remove the iconic building from its property.

“Even if they do lay eggs, it’s not going to impact any future plans for the Pink House,” Parker River National Wildlife Refuge Director Matt Hillman said. “Because we would not be doing any of our work until well after the osprey nesting season.”

The U S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought the almost 100-year-old Plum Island Turnpike house, located on a 9.2 acre parcel of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, for $375,000 in 2011.

Over the years the home has become a popular subject for many artists and photographers and according to supporters, serves as a tourist destination. 

Local nonprofit organization, Support The Pink House has been working with the federal government since 2015 to work out a potential land swap agreement (or individual occupancy option) to save the building.

But refugee officials announced in March that time had run out for any potential land swaps and the house would instead be listed for auction sometime this year.

Hillman said Friday the federal General Services Administration is going through a month-long process to evaluate how best to remove the Pink House.

Hillman also said he’s looking at listing the property for public auction in the late spring/early summer.

“The auction could run from anywhere from 30 days to two months,” he said. “So we’re not looking at a resolution until mid-to-late summer at least.”

But when a pair of the once endangered birds were seen perched on the Pink House chimney, some began wondering whether their mating plans would clash with the government’s schedule. 

Ospreys, according to the National Audubon Society are a distinctive fish-hawk that can most commonly be found hunting for salt or freshwater fish all across the globe. Some have also been seen flying over a desert. When fully extended, an osprey’s wingspan can often measure two feet across, and pairs of the birds can be seen circling high up together when courting.

Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift owner Steve Grinley said if the ospreys nest on the Pink House, they will likely lay eggs and raise their young there.

“These are common birds around here right now, we see them all the time. But maybe they’re trying to save the Pink House,” the well-known local birder said. 

Mass Audubon North Shore Community Science and Coastal Resilience Manger David Moon said the Pink House osprey have sparked interest from visitors.

“They’re very visible, since they’re located so close to the road,” he said. “And we have had many people comment about that to us.”

Ospreys started arriving in the area about three weeks ago, according to Grinley, who added the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 prohibits destroying or disturbing a nesting bird until it moves on.

“I believe it’s a federal offense,” he said. 

Hillman said Grinley was “absolutely right” but added a homeowner could get a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or another federal entity to do away with a nest.

“People would not just be allowed to go up and remove a nest,” he said. “But they can go through the process of getting a permit to do so, even if it’s located in unsafe area like a chimney.”

Nesting or not, Hillman said the ospreys won’t likely have any effect on the U S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans to auction the Pink House.

“We already stated we will not be taking the house down or would not be removing it or relocating it during the nesting season,” he said. “This is exactly why we chose to do that.”

Ospreys typically nest in the spring and the chicks will hatch around June, according to Hillman, who said they will then leave for points in South and Central America in late August. Their fledglings will migrate south about two weeks later.

“We’re going to let this nest go, whatever it does,” he said. “They might lay eggs but, it’s really late in the year right now. Our suspicion is that these birds are likely first-time nesters and they might not even lay eggs. Or, they might be even practicing for next year.”

Hillman added a pair of ospreys were seen trying to nest on the Pink House chimney last spring but didn’t get very far. 

“This could be the same pair or it could be a new pair. It’s not entirely new but we haven’t had an active, all-season-long osprey nest on top of the Pink House in quite a while. But we’ll see,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to watch them, if they do nest on that chimney.”

Ospreys don’t typically nest on a house, according to Grinley, who said they prefer the many platforms that have been built for them throughout the Great Marsh, or on top of a telephone pole.

“Sometimes the younger birds will bring sticks to an area and not really build a nest there,” Grinley said. “But these birds look serious.”