Catch Fish, Not Birds with Fishing Line

Fishing Line, Hooks, and Nets Poses Serious Threat to Birds and Wildlife

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Fishing season is here, so please don’t carelessly discard fishing lines, hooks, and netting that wreak havoc on birds and other wildlife.

When a bird gets entangled in the fishing line, a painful struggle ensues.

Birds suffer permanent damage to skin, feathers, muscles, nerves, and bones from the constricting line as they fight to escape.

Brown Pelican will have difficulty swallowing food with fishing line wrapped so tightly around its neck
Brown Pelican will have difficulty swallowing food with fishing line wrapped so tightly around its neck

Entangled birds are often entrapped and can’t find food or escape from predators.

And for bird parents, this affects the survival of their reliant chicks.

If the bird is unable to free itself, this deadly entrapment leads to exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration, and requires human assistance.

Don’t Fish for Birds

The fishing line is meant to catch fish, not birds.

Thousands of birds are injured or killed each year when they become tangled in man-made materials, like fishing lines.

When a bird ingests a fishing hook, it can lodge into the side of the bird’s beak, mouth, esophagus, or stomach causing internal bleeding, regurgitation of food, tissue damage, and death.

If fishing hooks or sinkers are made from lead, they can cause severe toxicity in raptors called lead poisoning.

Great Blue Heron with fishing line wrapped round its long beak
Great Blue Heron with fishing line wrapped round its long beak

Surgical removing the hook, which can lead to a lengthy recovery period, is often the only option for birds who swallow hooks.

So it’s important when you’re fishing to always properly dispose of unwanted fishing gear.

And when out birding or hiking and see fishing line, please pick it up.

Chances are when you’re out birding, you’ll come across an entangled bird. So be ready to act.

Finding an Injured Bird

Here’s what to do if you find an injured bird entangled in fishing line, hooks, or netting.

-Call your local wildlife rehabilitator

If you live in southern Connecticut and find an injured bird of prey, such as an owl, hawk, falcon, or eagle, we recommend contacting Christine Peyreigne of Christine’s Critters, a nonprofit in Weston, Connecticut, whose mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured birds of prey. 

Christine helps rehabilitate more than 250 birds of prey each year recover from injuries and return to the wild.

Christine's Critters rescues a Great Horned Owl caught in fishing line
Christine’s Critters rescues a Great Horned Owl caught in fishing line. Photo by Betsy Peyreigne

Use caution with birds of prey. These birds are dangerous, and you should’t attempt to pick them up.

If you do have to approach a bird of prey, be alert and watch for the bird’s talons.

Before attempting to move or approach the bird, talk to a rehabilitator.

Don’t move the bird unless it’s in imminent danger of being hit by a vehicle or being eaten by a predator.

If you can’s reach a rehabilitator, call your state’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office or call 911 and ask for assistance.

Contain the injured bird

You probably think it’s more urgent to get the bird free from restraint, but containing the bird is more important.

If you cut and remove only enough material to free the bird, then the bird may escape with hooks and string still attached to its body, causing harm and resulting in the bird’s death.

It’s crucial to capture the bird and then cut it free.

Osprey patient at Christine's Critters with fishing tackle caught in its talons
Osprey patient at Christine’s Critters with fishing tackle caught in its talons. Photo by Betsy Peyreigne

-Use caution removing the material

Don’t remove the material entangling the bird if it’s embedded in the bird’s skin or is wrapped too tightly on the bird.

Removing material can cause more significant damage to the bird.

If you must remove the material, then try cutting away enough to get the bird loose and transport it to a wildlife rehabilitator where they can safely remove the rest.

Christine's Critters saves this beautiful Osprey by removing fishing tackle from its leg
Christine’s Critters saves this beautiful Osprey by removing fishing tackle from its leg. Photo by Betsy Peyreigne

-Be ready to catch the tangled bird if it’s out of reach

After you cut the restraining material, be ready to catch the bird in case it falls.

Don’t let the bird drop into an area where it may sustain further injuries, escape, not be able to be reached, or drown if it falls into the water still tangled!

-Bring the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator

After containing the bird and cutting away the entangled material, now you’re committed.

It’s time to see this through and bring the bird to your local wildlife rehabilitator if they can’t come to you.

It’s likely that the bird has sustained an injury from the string, netting, or hook, and needs to be evaluated.

You can safely transport the bird by placing them in a closed large paper bag, thick blanket, or covered cardboard box, depending on their size.

It's a happy ending for this Osprey. Thanks to Christine's diligent care this bird is back in the wild. Photo by Betsy Peyreigne
It’s a happy ending for this Osprey. Thanks to Christine’s diligent care this bird is back in the wild. Photo by Betsy Peyreigne

Don’t Leave Entanglement Hazards Behind

Here are some entanglement hazards to avoid leaving in the wild.

Fishing line and hooks and tackle left along beaches, lakes, and ponds is the leading cause of wildlife entanglement. Line and tackle left in branches and bushes become tangled on the bird’s legs, wings, and beaks.

Keep our birds safe by using proper disposal containers, and cutting disposed fishing line into small pieces that will not become a risk to wildlife.

Kite or balloon strings in branches or bushes can be fatal for a bird.

Never release balloons into the environment!  Balloons and strings become hazards to wildlife.

Plastic six-pack rings for cans or plastic bottles can get stuck on the head or limb of a bird.
Cut plastic rings apart before disposing of them, so there are no openings.

Soccer goal netting left up traps nocturnal wildlife such as owls don’t see the netted barrier as they fly through an open field at night.

Birds are seriously injured and can die struggling to free themselves.

Please make sure soccer goal netting is removed when not in use.

Holiday decorations are dangerous to wildlife.

Birds get caught on strings of outdoor holiday lights, and stringy spider webbing decorations put up for Halloween, so think twice before creating unwanted perils for birds.

Dispose of all Christmas tree netting by cutting the monofilament into small pieces and placing them into the garbage.

Birds panic and injure themselves trying to escape or be trapped until they die, so please make sure your holiday decorations are safe for birds and wildlife.

Least Sandpiper with monofilament fishing line around its foot
Least Sandpiper with monofilament fishing line around its foot

Birds and Other Wildlife Need Our Help

Want to help birds and wildlife?

Here are some steps to help prevent injuries and death to birds and wildlife.

-Dispose of broken or leftover fishing gear properly

Never leave behind fishing lines, hooks, lures, or bait. Use designated fishing gear disposal options, such as fishing line recycling bins or tubes.

-Don’t release fish who still have hooks in them

If practicing catch and release, use barbless hooks.

-Act quickly when you find an entangled bird

Try to safely capture the bird and bring it to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator to assess the bird’s injuries.

-Remove hooks from unintended catches

If you unintentionally hook a bird or other wildlife while fishing, try removing the hook safely. If you can’t remove the hook, contact animal control or your local wildlife rehabilitator.

This seagull snared in a fishing line lost its ability to eat and fly
This seagull snared in a fishing line lost its ability to eat and fly

-Organize a clean-up event at your local fishing spot

Remove carelessly discarded monofilament fishing line, hooks, and nets before they can wreak havoc.

-Share your knowledge

Educate friends, family, and neighbors who enjoy fishing about the harmful impact of improperly discarded fishing tackle.

Share this article with them so they can see the harm caused by carelessly discarded fishing tackle.

When we discard fishing line into the environment are providing the landscape with a lethal device that keeps killing. 

It takes up to 600 years for monofilament to break down in the environment.

Please encourage your friends and family who enjoy fishing to follow the golden rule: retrieve all snagged monofilament lines wherever you fish, whether yours or others and dispose of it properly in trash containers.

It’s a big world out there, so let’s enjoy nature and coexist!

Comments

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  1. It’s hurt to see those pictures, fishing damages the sea and the animal too. I hope we will have the rule to control that behavior soon, I love birds and don’t want them to deal with this problem

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