Squatters live atop Scott and Denise Smith’s $4.4 million Chateau Lyon mansion in the gated Alexander Island community on Lake Norman. But evicting them poses a problem for the couple.
First of all, Scott Smith said, he admires the squatters – a male and female pair of ospreys that have built a 4-foot-by-4-foot nest on one of the home’s chimneys, 40 feet above the ground.
Smith loves sitting in the conservatory and watching as ospreys swoop into Lake Norman for a catfish. He admires their piercing chirps and 6-foot wingspans. He smiles recounting the fish skeletons he collects from the yard and the day a strong odor seeped down the chimney into the couple’s living room.
“It smelled like Myrtle Beach at the pier,” Smith said at his home last week.
And, second, even if he spends $1,500 to build them a new nesting spot nearby, it’s possible they won’t use it. Once ospreys find a nesting spot, they can be pretty stubborn about moving.
But Smith said he needs to do something because limbs from the nest could damage roof tiles that the home’s former owners imported from Lyon, France. The tiles cost $500,000 and an additional $250,000 to install, he said.
Chateau Lyon cost $22 million to build and came fully furnished with 19th-century French antiques. The Smiths bought the foreclosed estate, with 500 feet of shoreline, in May 2012. Alexander Island is at the end of Langtree Road, off Interstate 77 Exit 31 in southern Iredell County.
Scott Smith said the nest was there when he and his wife bought the home.
He said he’s willing to pay the $1,500 for volunteers from Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists, a chapter of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, to build an osprey platform offshore for the birds. The federation has placed nearly 50 osprey platforms over the years at lakes along the Catawba River chain.
But the birds could return from fall and winter migration and choose the chimney over a new platform, said Duke Energy senior scientist Scott Fletcher. He said barriers could be placed on the chimney to keep the birds away. But would they take to the new place that humans set out for them? No one knows for sure.
Rules govern nests
Scott Smith owns Morris Costumes, which his family started 50 years ago in the basement of their home at 5110 Kistler Ave., behind the Amity Gardens shopping center in east Charlotte. For 30 years, it remained a small retailer and distributor, moving to several locations on Monroe Road over the years.
With the explosion of e-commerce and temporary Halloween stores, the company quickly grew to be 10 times its original size and volume. It ships 15,000 packages a day and employs more than 350 people.
Along with mowing the 25 acres of lawn at his company’s 80-acre Charlotte campus each Saturday, Smith says, relaxing at Chateau Lyon is a perfect tonic for his 15-hour workdays. He wishes he could simply move the osprey to a platform on the water.
But the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, bars the general public from moving active nests of protected birds from one location to another. The law protects 1,007 types of birds in the United States, Fletcher said.
Duke Energy has a special permit from Fish and Wildlife that allows it to move active nests from Duke-owned areas, such as on electric distribution structures, to nearby artificial nesting platforms. In its service area, Duke Energy typically moves up to 20 osprey nests per year, Fletcher said.
The artificial platforms and support poles are installed within line of sight of the original nest and at a height greater than the original nest, he said.
Choices for homeowners
Inactive nests – defined as after the eggs hatch and the young leave – can be moved from problem areas such as boat houses and elevated structures such as the Chateau Lyon chimney, Fletcher said. But “ospreys are persistent creatures of habit,” he said. “They will return to the same nest site year after year – they can live up to 30 years.”
‘Baiting’ the nest
It’s best to remove the inactive nest, put a nest platform nearby, and “bait” it with the old nest or a pile of sticks, he said. At the same time, a deterrent needs to be installed on the original structure, such as steel triangles and plastic spikes or even over-arching terra cotta tiles over the structure.
“The only other alternative is to annually remove the nest after the birds have left,” Fletcher said.
Duke Energy provides grants that have enabled the federation to install numerous osprey nest platforms on Lake Norman and Lake Wylie, Fletcher said. “These platforms not only provide necessary nesting sites for a growing population but also ‘pull’ the birds away from other less desirable structures,” he said.
Fletcher said he would be glad to work with the Smiths.
Scott Smith said he recently called in Mark Lancaster, a member of the Lake Norman Marine Commission and Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists, to discuss building an osprey nest in the lake outside Chateau Lyon.
Whatever he decides, “I don’t want to lose them,” Scott Smith said. “They’re absolutely gorgeous.”
Marusak: 704-987-3670; on Twitter: @ jmarusak.
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