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Fire siren at New Jersey shore silenced after ospreys build nest there; pagers used instead

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An osprey takes off from its nest inside a fire siren in Spring Lake N.J. on Tuesday May 6, 2014. The Jersey shore town has been forced to turn the siren off until fall to avoid disturbing the bird and any chicks it may have. First responders are notified of emergencies using pagers or cell phones. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

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An osprey takes off from its nest inside a fire siren in Spring Lake N.J. on Tuesday May 6, 2014. The Jersey shore town has been forced to turn the siren off until fall to avoid disturbing the bird and any chicks it may have. First responders are notified of emergencies using pagers or cell phones. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

SPRING LAKE, N.J. - A pair of ospreys has quieted a fire alarm in one New Jersey shore town, and that has ruffled some feathers in the fire department.

The raptors built a nest inside the siren used by Spring Lake's fire department and first aid squad. By law, the nest can't be disturbed, because ospreys are listed as a threatened species in New Jersey during their breeding season.

The siren has been turned off for the spring and summer, leaving firefighters and paramedics to rely on pagers and cellphones to alert them of emergencies.

First responders in the resort about 60 miles north of Atlantic City say so far things have been working smoothly. But Fire Chief Tom Mullaney said Spring Lake could have a serious problem if it loses power or has a communications glitch.

"The siren is our primary alert," he said. "If dispatch makes an error on the initial page, then the phones won't work, and I wish they would take this more seriously. If we get a lightning strike or some other kind of technology malfunction and these things don't work, it could be a big problem."

There is a backup siren on the other side of town near its public works building that is unencumbered by birds, "but they've been real reluctant to do anything with sirens since those birds got there," Mullaney said.

"We're not trying to hurt the birds," he said. "We just need to keep our communications system working."

Borough Administrator Bryan Dempsey said a police officer notified him in March that an osprey appeared to be building a nest on the siren, which is mounted on a pole about 100 feet off the ground behind the police, fire and first aid squad headquarters.

The nest cannot be disturbed at least until Sept. 1.

Spring Lake officials say they may need to create an alternate place nearby for the birds to nest next year.

"Once they pick a spot, they keep coming back to that spot" year after year, he said. "So we'll do whatever we have to do to make sure they have a habitat to live in."

Officials say they believe several chicks have hatched, but none was visible from the ground on Tuesday.

There are nearly 550 pairs of ospreys in New Jersey, based on a 2013 state survey.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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