Barn owl halts removal of 41-foot nutcracker in Oregon park

AP News
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Posted: Apr 23, 2015 2:07 PM

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) — All this barn owl family wants is the chance to raise their children in a stable home.

A 41-foot, 18,000-pound, coconut-crushing stable home that workers were planning to dismantle with a 10-ton crane.

The massive wooden nutcracker erected in River Forks Park couldn't be removed Tuesday because the owls are a federally protected species, the Roseburg News-Review (http://bit.ly/1HrDEyV) reported.

Construction workers who arrived to dismantle the toy found a nest with six eggs and a hatchling near the quarter-horsepower engine, which is used to power the statute's coconut-crushing jaw.

The removal was already delayed: The nutcracker was still standing months after being featured in November's Umpqua Valley Festival of the Lights because its large size required organizers to revamp their truck before hauling it away.

Festival head Kerwin Doughton arrived at the park around noon to find workers twisting off the statue's head.

Then they told him about the owls, and Doughton said, "Stop everything. I've got to make some phone calls."

Doughton was familiar with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects birds like barn owls and is especially stringent when they have nested.

Festival organizers will have to wait a few weeks until the remaining eggs hatch, local U.S. Fish and Wildlife official Jim Thraikill said.

At that point, the department will have to determine whether the hatchlings can be removed or if crews will need to wait for them to begin to fly, he said.

"We wanted to get (the nutcracker) down as quick as possible and out of the park — things just didn't come together," Doughton said.

The eggs are expected to hatch within weeks since one owlet has already been born.

Until then, the county parks department will put up temporary chain link fencing to deter meddlers.

This November, festival organizers will block off the nutcracker's cavities, Doughton said.

But he's happy for the owls.

"We preserved the nest and hope the fledglings will go on to have their own families," he said.

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Information from: The News-Review, http://www.nrtoday.com