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Faux cell tower birds fly into controversy

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Richard Cary of Anna Maria took this telephoto image of the faux bird on the cell tower. He came to The Islander office to ask what is being done about the bird hanging since last Wednesday. He said he had researched and could find no such bird with “red head,” and learned the bird was fake from the newspaper staff.

High-tower act Jay Collins, outlined against the gray sky and Holmes Beach cell tower by the orange stripes on his work shirt, moves rapidly down the tower July 10 as a thunderstorm approaches. Collins and brother Jesse said they work for Crown Castle Inc., operator of the tower, and the faux birds are to scare other birds because too many birds on the tower cause service interference. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

A fake bird dangles on the left from the top tier of the cell tower in Holmes Beach, while the nest of osprey on the right contains fledgling birds, according to neighbor Tondra Lopossa and birder John van Zandt. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The hanging fake bird on the cell tower in Holmes Beach is clearly a fake bird when viewed with binoculars or a telephoto lens, but some observant people found it distasteful and cruel. Birder John van Zandt thought the fake bird would harass and scare the fledglings in the nearby nest and called The Islander for help. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the installation of a faux bird on the Holmes Beach cell tower July 11.

Workers for Crown Castle Inc., the owner/operator of the cell tower, install faux birds — fake birds — on tower beams to scare off other birds.

Atop the Holmes Beach tower is an osprey nest, reportedly containing several fledgling birds.

One fake bird hangs with feathers flapping upside down by its foot from a dangling wire attached to an extension pole at the top tier of the cell tower opposite the nest.

The problem with that, said Gary Morris of the FWC, is that it’s illegal to interfere with nesting birds, and a permit is required if a company is working on a cell tower where birds are nesting.

Morris said he and FWC Capt. Dave Adams will fly over the cell tower in the FWC’s helicopter and observe any nesting activity through binoculars and a video recording. Morris said the helicopter would be high above any nest and would not interfere with any chicks, birds or mating.

Morris did not know when the flyover would take place, or if Crown Castle had a permit for the work.

He said a permit would be needed to erect fake birds designed to scare off other birds, and the permit would have to ensure no nesting birds or chicks were disturbed.

A series of phone calls to Crown Castle Inc. went from Sarasota to Illinois to Pennsylvania, where efforts to reach a spokesperson were unsuccessful.

A neighbor to the cell tower said she’s heard workers on the structure overnight on several occasions, but not recently.

“The chicks would become so excited they would wake me, and I could hear the men talking on the tower,” she said of work sometimes performed overnight. The morning after the fake bird was hung on the tower, she was awakened again. “This time was at 3 a.m.,” said Tondra Lopossa of 59th Street in Holmes Beach.

She notified Holmes Beach police of the disturbance.

John van Zandt of Holmes Beach said he observed the men on the tower July 11. At first, he thought they were trying to rescue a bird caught on the tower. He later realized they had installed an imitation dead bird hanging by a wire from a tower beam.

“I thought it was strange they were even up there. A storm was coming in quickly and they could have been easily electrocuted,” he said.

Holmes Beach Police Lt. Dale Stephenson said a maintenance representative from Crown Castle visited the department July 13, saying his company will cooperate with HBPD and FWC.

Morris said he would report on what he and Adams observe soon after the tower flyover.

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