Nature put up a fight Monday, but additions to a 60-acre wetland in East Moline prove manpower prevailed on the first day of spring.

A small crew trudged through the swampy property and tiptoed around slithering snakes to raise two new osprey nests on land owned by the Quad-City Conservation Alliance, or QCCA. 

MidAmerican Energy donated time, labor and a pair of 30-foot utility poles to hold the nesting platforms, which Ross Chapman, a senior at Geneseo High School, built for his Eagle Scout project.

"I've been interested in the outdoors all my life, so it seemed like a good project to do," said Chapman, 17, who is a Scout in Troop 383 in East Moline. "I don't know if I would've been able to do this without MidAmerican's help."

Ospreys — fish-eating hawks known for their strong ability to hunt underwater — are considered an endangered species in Illinois. But Chapman, who plans to study engineering this fall at Iowa State University, hopes his effort will help flip the script. 

Similar to eagles, the number of ospreys declined in the 1950s because of the use of pesticides such as DDT. Since DDT was banned in the 1970s, however, osprey populations have rebounded in many parts of the U.S., but not Illinois.

Meanwhile, ospreys have returned to Iowa as a nesting species and remain at the top of the aquatic food chain, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reports.

Now that the nests are in place in East Moline, Chapman will contact the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which is working to re-establish the bird as a nesting species in the state. 

"People don't realize we used to have a lot of ospreys in this area," said Dick Riddell, vice president of the QCCA. "The goal is to relocate some out here so people can come watch them. They're one cool bird." 

Equipped with strong talons and a 6-foot wingspan, the birds can dive into water at 40 mph to catch fish up to three feet below the surface, according to the Iowa DNR.

The QCCA covered the costs of the treated lumber and other materials Chapman used to construct the nests, which mark the fourth Eagle Scout project completed at the wetland in the past three years.

Eagle Scouts previously have built and installed duck and bat houses and a shelter at the site. Another student has proposed building a structure there this summer, allowing visitors to observe wildlife.

"This is what we're all about," said Riddell, who noted the Eagle Scout work enhances the property, which the organization took control of in 2013. 

In the summer of 2015, researchers discovered close to 500 species of birds there. The wetland also is home to four lakes, which cover about 20 acres and contain bass, bluegill, catfish and crappies.

Riddell stressed they need to continue mowing invasive plant species from the area, particularly the towering reed called phragmites austrails, which dominates the landscape.

If ospreys do not occupy the new nests, Riddell said other birds, including red-tailed hawks, great blue herons or eagles, may take over.

Because of the soggy conditions, it took about three hours on Monday for the MidAmerican crew to transport and secure the first nest. Chapman, who just started his baseball season, skipped a full day of classes to get the job done.

"I didn't think it would be that difficult to get them out here," Chapman said, sharing what he learned. "Even when certain things don't go your way, you can definitely overcome them and still succeed."


Jack Cullen is a reporter covering various sides of life, including the outdoors, across the Quad-City area. Outside of work, you can find him on the tennis court, where he serves as a coach at Augustana College in Rock Island.