MANATEE -- New nesting structures for a threatened bird of prey are being installed in Duette Preserve thanks to a collaborative project between Manatee County and Florida Power & Light Co.
FPL has been replacing its wooden power poles in the preserve with new, more storm-resilient concrete poles. FPL found active southeastern American kestral nests in four of the older poles and inactive nests in four others during replacement work last month.
After consulting with the county, FPL decided to preserve existing nesting sites and add new ones, according to Bill Orlove of FPL.
FPL donated the wooden poles to the county and relocated the inactive nests to another part of the preserve. The poles with active nests will be left alone until after nesting season and relocated in the fall.
FPL also installed bird houses on the new concrete poles, providing more places for birds to roost.
"It's been a really good partnership with the county," Orlove said.
The southeastern American kestral, also known as a sparrow hawk, is the smallest falcon in the United States.
Matt Smith, eagle watch coordinator for Audubon Florida, said kestral numbers have dropped dramatically in the past 20 years.
"They're in some trouble," he said.
The reasons for the decline are not completely understood since other species of kestrals are doing well, he said.
"It likely comes down to availability of habitat," he said.
Manatee County Natural Resources Department manager Max Dersch said the southeastern American kestral seems to like Duette Preserve. He said an informal count done last summer found 17 active nests within the 21,000-acre preserve.
Dersch said artificial nests are vital and power poles are ideal locations for kestrals.
"They look for tall structures with open ground around them," Dersch said.
Dersch said FPL has agreed to donate every power pole it replaces in the preserve to provide even more roosting sites.
"It's good for the county; it's good for Duette Preserve, since it's a site on the Great Florida Birding Trail," he said.
Jim DeLa, East Manatee/weekend editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @jimdelaBH.