Untangling the Hazards of Fishing Line

Thousands of birds and animals are injured or killed each year as the result of becoming tangled in a variety of man-made materials. A leading cause of wildlife entanglement is fishing line and its associated hooks and tackle that have been improperly disposed of along beaches, lakes, and ponds.

Fishing hooks and lines caught in branches and bushes harm aquatic animals such as turtles and frogs, and become tangled on the legs, wings, and beaks of birds. Geese, ducks and gulls sustain crippling injuries after one or both of their legs become wrapped in fishing line. A hook caught in a beak or mouth can make eating painful or impossible, resulting in death by starvation.

Always cut fishing line into pieces less than 6 inches long. Dispose of it, along with hooks and tackle, in appropriate covered containers so it does not become a risk to wildlife. Volunteer your time to clean up fishing line debris at local ponds, lakes, or beaches. Support the use of biodegradable fishing line that does not have an indefinite life span in the environment.

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is working to install monofilament recycling containers on their property. These will allow for responsible disposal of dangerous fishing line debris. It’s important that these receptacles themselves do not become hazards to birds. The design should include secure closure that will safely contain discarded materials, without allowing birds to enter and become ensnared.

ENTANGLEMENT HAZARDS FOR BIRDS AND ANIMALS INCLUDE MORE THAN FISHING LINE

Kite or balloon strings caught in overhead branches or bushes can fatally trap a bird. Chicago Bird Collision Monitors recently rescued a mallard suspended upside down, 50 feet above the ground by kite string that had become tangled on its leg. When a kite becomes snagged in a tree, always remove as much of the kite string as can be reached safely. Never release balloons into the environment where the balloons and the string become hazards to wildlife.

Plastic six-pack rings for cans or plastic bottles or any other plastic ring from a container should always be cut apart before they are discarded so there are no openings that could get stuck on the head or limb of an animal.

Soccer goal netting can trap nocturnal wildlife such as owls or cottontails that do not see the netting as they run or fly across an open field at night. Animals and birds will be seriously injured or die as they struggle to free themselves. If your park or school has soccer fields, please make sure the goal netting can be removed when not in use.

Holiday decorations also can be dangerous to wildlife. Birds become caught on loosely hung strings of outdoor holiday lights. The popular sticky spider web decorations placed across bushes at Halloween ensnare birds that feed or shelter in the vegetation. Birds will panic and injure themselves trying to escape. If unable to free themselves they will die in the webbing. Please make sure your holiday decorations are safe for wildlife.

Netted covers for trees intended to keep birds from reaching ripening fruit often snag the birds they are trying to exclude. If you use a cover for a fruit tree, check frequently for trapped birds.

Landscape netting used for turf reinforcement, plantings and erosion control can trap birds, small animals and the predators that pursue them. This ground cover can be particularly hazardous when placed where aquatic birds and their young exit the water to reach land. Check areas that are netted frequently. Use biodegradable netting that breaks down faster than standard plastic ground covers.

You can help prevent wildlife injuries and deaths by recognizing and removing entanglement hazards!

WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND AN ENTANGLED BIRD

FIRST, CALL FOR HELP AND ADVICE:

WILLOWBROOK WILDLIFE CENTER AT 630-942-6200 OR CHICAGO BIRD COLLISION MONITORS (CBCM) HOTLINE AT 773-988-1867

NEVER CUT AN ENTANGLED BIRD LOOSE BEFORE THE BIRD HAS BEEN SECURELY CONTAINED!!

Capture – then cut! If you are going to try to free a bird yourself, it’s critical that you restrain the bird before you cut it free from its attachment. It may seem that the most urgent thing is to cut the bird loose but containing the bird is more important. Otherwise the bird can escape with hooks and string still attached, only to face additional harm and in many cases eventual death.

If a bird is reachable and small enough: Wrap or cover its body securely in a towel, pillowcase, or net to contain it while the netting, line or string is cut or unwrapped.

If you find an entangled bird that would be dangerous to handle (heron, bittern, cormorant, owl, hawk): Be sure to call a wildlife rehabilitation center first for assistance or guidance to keep the rescuers and the bird safe.

If the bird is suspended out of your reach and you are unable to contain it first, be prepared to catch the bird as it falls when the restraining material is cut. Do not allow a bird to drop into an area where it may sustain further injuries, escape, not be reachable or possibly drown if it falls into water while still tangled.

Once the bird is free of entanglement, DO NOT LET IT GO. It is likely that the bird will have sustained an injury from the string, netting or hook. It should be examined at a wildlife rehabilitation center where it will be assessed for lacerations, infection, and nerve or tissue damage resulting from the entanglement.

AGAIN, PLEASE REMEMBER: IF YOU FIND AN ENTANGLED BIRD, FIRST CALL A WILDLIFE REHABILITATION CENTER SUCH AS WILLOWBROOK WILDLIFE CENTER AT 630-942-6200 OR THE CHICAGO BIRD COLLISION MONITORS (CBCM) HOTLINE AT 773-988-1867 TO GET HELP AND ADVICE.

For more information contact CBCM: [email protected] or call 773-988-1867 or go to www.birdmonitors.net

Want to donate to Chicago Audubon on behalf of CBCM? Click here to make a donation!

You can see this story with important photos on Page 3 of our Sept/Oct 2010 newsletter.

Annette Prince, Chicago Bird Collision Monitors