Raven's nest stalls $1.5M New Jersey water tower project, causing weeks of delays

New Jersey officials are not saying "nevermore" to a town's $1.5 million project to paint its water tower, but they are ordering the community to wait until a family of ravens vacates a nest atop the structure - which could take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Officials in Fair Lawn, N.J., have put the repainting project on hold for several weeks after a resident saw a nest on the rusting tower and notified state officials. The delay, which will last until the baby ravens hatch and fly away, will cost $20,000, Fair Lawn Mayor John Cosgrove told FoxNews.com.


“Most definitely,” Cosgrove said when asked if the incident was the most unusual he has encountered as mayor. “It goes under the category of ‘you can’t make it up.’”

The project, which was slated to be completed by the end of summer, could now be delayed up to six weeks, since it takes between 4-6 weeks for the raven hatchlings to fly, Cosgrove said.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has asked the Bergen County Audobon Society to monitor the situation and to inform borough officials as to when construction can resume. Cosgrove said he’s considering asking state officials to help with the additional expenditures.

“My problem with it is, it’s going to cost us another $20,000, which we don’t have in the budget,” Cosgrove continued. “Something’s going to have to be sacrificed to accommodate this thing.”

New Jersey DEP spokesman Bob Considine said active raven nests, with eggs or young, are protected by federal law through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act.

"The nesting birds were brought to our attention by a resident," Considine wrote to FoxNews.com in an email. "We informed the borough it would probably violate state and federal law if the work continued."

Common ravens, according to National Geographic, survive an average of 13 years in the wild and generally prey on eggs of other birds, rodents, worms and insects when not scavenging. They’re also known to build large, stick-based nests in which females lay up to seven eggs each spring. Both parents then care for the hatchlings, which remain dependent for several months.

Don Torino, president of the Bergen County Audubon Society, told The Record that the ravens atop the New Jersey water tower will likely leave the nest by mid-May.

“You could get addicted to watching them,” he told the newspaper. “They play with each other like dogs. There’s an intelligent connection you can sense. They’ll fly upside down, throw sticks to each other.”

The raven was once a common sight in the Northeast, but the animal disappeared for more than a century as deforestation for farming decimated breeding grounds, forcing a retreat to Canada. But the birds have returned to northern New Jersey, according to Jim Wright, a spokesman for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

Wright told The Record that two ravens whose nest was tucked in the rocky cliffs of Laurel Hill in Secaucus have returned to the site each year since at least 2009. The pair have successfully bred offspring and apparently returned this year as well, he said.

“I saw both parents fly into the nest earlier this month, and have had other reports of the same,” he told the newspaper. “The nest was completely washed away by Hurricane Sandy, and this is their first year back with a nest.”

Cosgrove, meanwhile, said he’s become an amateur ornithologist since the birds were spotted.

“They like to nest in high places, I know that,” he told FoxNews.com. “Well, they’re actually nesting on the catwalk of our water tower.”