WESTSHORE - With an $11 million restoration project of the historic Forest City Bank building in Ohio City nearing completion, the last thing superintendent Walt Gachuk needed to throw off his scheduled fall opening was a bird nest in the attic.
Not just any bird nest, but a pair of American kestrels with five eggs in the nest, hidden behind a hole in the soffits that skirt the roof of the old brick building at the intersection of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street.
The building once housed the now-closed Massimo da Milano and Keifer’s restaurants. Now its only residents are a pair of kestrels, North America’s smallest falcon, about the size of a mourning dove.
But Gachuk was unaware of his feathered guests until last week, after his workers at the Snavely Building Group prepared to repair the hole in the soffit. Suddenly, they were dive-bombed by the kestrels. Gachuk contacted the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which inspected the nesting site and found the eggs tucked out of sight.
Relocating the eggs was not an option. The kestrels would have abandoned the nest. Other construction managers facing a deadline on a multimillion-dollar project probably would have ordered the hole patched and the kestrels be damned.
But fortunately for the birds, Gachuk is a nature lover with a special place in his heart for urban falcons that feed on mice, large insects and small birds. The kestrel population is declining, and is listed as threatened in the Northeast.
“I said let’s let them be and let nature take its course,” Gachuk said. “The owner is completely cool with it. I’m just going to work my schedule around it. We’re going to let them do their thing, and after the chicks fledge we’ll go back and finish our work.”
Gachuk even draped a safety net below the nest hole so the chicks won’t die on the sidewalk below once they leave the nest in about two to three months.
Jamey Emmert of the Division of Wildlife told Gachuk that, in her 15 years at the agency, she never once encountered anyone who had sacrificed so much for birds, he said.
“He’s so proud to have these birds on his property,” Emmert said.
Gachuk said the kestrel nest rescue effort serves as a fitting symbol for the 38-unit, Forest City Square Apartments, which will offer low-income housing and a green building that will receive 80 percent of its power from solar panels on the roof.
James McCarty is a freelance bird columnist and writer from Cleveland.