From the April 14, 1978 edition of the Vineyard Gazette.

The parental urge of a pair of ospreys set four Island fire departments rolling Tuesday afternoon to what proved to be a false alarm.

The next to last report had the ospreys “sitting on top of a light pole looking a little bewildered and pretty darned mad.”

The final report is that they appear to have accepted a new homesite offered and erected for their exclusive use and have started construction anew.

A. Stanley Mercer, chief engineer of the hospital, was in his office just after lunch that day when he saw the lights in the old section of the hospital flicker and heard popping noises. He set off at a quick pace to investigate. As he descended the back hall near the kitchen he smelled smoke near an employee break room, which happens to be near the main circuit panel. He called in an alarm and went into the basement with help, fire extinguishers and flashlights.

Hospital staff came at the run with more fire extinguishers. Shortly, someone smelled smoke in the emergency room. When an alarm is called in from the hospital, the Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs fire departments roll their apparatus immediately. Edgartown sends a truck to Oak Bluffs to help fill that void; West Tisbury sends a truck to the Vineyard Haven barn to stand by. That’s what happened Tuesday. It turned out to be just for practice. The flickering lights were caused by a pair of ospreys building a nest near the Oak Bluffs end of the Lagoon Pond bridge.

But first, the smoke smell. Earlier that day hospital repairmen had been working on a heating system zone control valve in the break room near the kitchen. While they were working, the radiators in the room got a full flow of steam and warmed up enough to drive a bit of odor out of the dust accumulated on them. The emergency room smoke was apparently due to a nose oversensitized by the earlier alarm.

For the past several days, the osprey pair have been working on a nest atop a pole near the end of the bridge. In the course of their construction they got a large branch across the primary wires. Things went well enough until it started drizzling Tuesday, and the nonconducting branch turned into a conducting branch. The circuit breaker at the Uncas avenue substation stuttered for a while, then gave up the effort and tripped.

The power company has removed the nest — the third nest they have removed from poles in two weeks, Mr. Sheehan says.

“We often pull out sticks that are four and a half or five feet long. When they jam sticks in behind a transformer, they’re in there,” he says. “The nests grow very quickly — the birds have got what amounts to a limitless supply of building materials.”

Wednesday morning first thing, an amalgam of diverse groups pitched in to erect a new pole complete with nesting platform near the hospital. White Brothers sent a front-end loader down to move a pile of sand to give access to the site. Felix Neck produced one of the poles donated by Edward Chalif. Tim Baird of Berube Electric, who with Buzzy Blankenship is a regular on the Felix Neck osprey pole crew, tuned out to help. And so on. Everyone involved passes the credit on to the next man: “It’s a group effort,” they say.

Yesterday morning the birds apparently had signed the lease and were once again hauling materials.

Mr. Sheehan sounded pleased about that report. These same birds have been trouble before. Late last season they tried to nest near the bridge, and that nest was removed. Earlier this year they returned and nested again near the bridge, which nest was removed. Then, they started again on a different pole and really started a ruckus.

The power line they chose the second time serves only two customers. Mr. Sheehan says his company has been trying to get an easement to run the power into those two houses along a different route, which would free up six or seven poles for the birds, if they wanted them: “They could set up an osprey condominium and start their own newspaper,” Mr. Sheehan said.

After consultation with naturalists, the power company has adopted a policy of letting the birds work on their nests undisturbed until the nest is nearly complete before removing it. If the nest is removed too early, the birds may continue to attempt to build the nest in the same spot. The continuing effort may occupy them right through laying season. If they are successful, they are likely to lay eggs and then be forced to abandon them before hatching because of the crowds they attract to the public location. The utility companies have installed a number of poles just for ospreys, and have donated poles to Felix Neck for the purpose as well. Mr. Sheehan points out that it is not without self-interest. “It helps the birds, but it saves our customers from outages too,” he says. Along the same lines of thought, Mr. Mercer saw a bright spot in the false alarm. He said he was very pleased by the hospital staff’s response to the alarm.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox