I was introduced to the author of this story through Jamie Foster at the Skyway Piers. Susan and I talked for a long time and she said that if she was allowed to write a novel on this one, she would have. I went into great detail about my thoughts on tangled birds.

I talked to Susan about expanding on the story.   She had limitations on the length of her piece and I had given her some extra details and concepts on evaluating a situation and liberating a bird that is tangled in line or “hooked.”   Below is Susan’s great story plus some other information and ideas on prevention and tactics to handling these situations.

Susan’s article link:


Here’s the catch: Hooks, line pose everyday threat to birds

  • By Susan Marschalk Green, Times Correspondent

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It’s a crisp, cloudless morning at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier, and Nguyen Sung of Lutz baits his hook, eager to try his luck alongside others who cast their lines into Tampa Bay on the pier’s south side. • Paddling about in the azure water below is another species hoping for a lucky catch: a common loon visiting from as far north as Minnesota or Canada. • Seconds after Sung’s hook zings over the railing, the loon abruptly dives, thrashing in a panic under water and then spinning wildly when forced to the surface as Sung tugs on the fishing rod. Suddenly he has a bird on a wire.

Unlucky catches like that occur daily at fishing piers all over Florida, say fishermen and wildlife rescuers. This one, which happened last month, ended with a lucky loon. Sung kept the bird on the line until veteran angler Albert Ortiz of St. Petersburg and Tampa Audubon bird monitor Sandy Reed of Valrico could remove the hook and line and set the animal free.

Many hooked or entangled birds are not so lucky, and that has lovers of feather and fin alike talking about ways to reduce the hazards of fishing line to wildlife. The recent deaths of an entangled loon and a black-legged kittiwake, an Arctic bird rarely spotted in Florida, set birders’ Internet message boards abuzz. The kittiwake was one of two to show up at the Skyway early in February and had drawn dozens of camera-toting bird watchers from out of state before it became entwined and perished.

“It’s not just birds that get caught,” said Ann Paul, regional coordinator with Audubon of Florida. “It’s turtles. It’s manatees sometimes.

“For a healthy bird to be caught in fishing line and die because of careless actions by fishermen is just very unfortunate. … I think as a community we should say, ‘Let’s do better.’ ”

Paul has spent two decades patrolling bay area islands and cutting down dead birds snagged in mangroves by fishing line. Even if birds trailing twine avoid that fate, they likely will be hobbled and unable to forage. Often the tough synthetic strands act like a saw, rubbing against flesh and bone and severing wings or legs as the bird twists trying to get free.

“It will be a slow, painful death,” said Reed, who joined Tampa Audubon two years ago and has been frequenting the Skyway pier to check on birds and talk to fishermen.

Local bird rescuers say pelicans, which stalk fishing holes hoping for handouts, are the most frequent victims, with hundreds of them showing up at bird hospitals with fishing line injuries every year. But gulls, cormorants, gamuts and terns also fall prey, either getting hooked or becoming entangled in a web of nearly invisible strands when fishermen cluster at the same spot.

In the fall, Audubon and a nonprofit partner, Tampa Bay Watch, will conduct their 20th annual monofilament line cleanup of the bay, which Paul thinks has encouraged proper disposal of used fishing line. But helping ensnared birds is more complicated.

Jamie Foster, who helps manage the Skyway pier and concessions leased from the state, said she was heartbroken when she learned of the kittiwake’s fate via an Internet blog. A few days before, she said, she had driven by a group of bird watchers observing the ailing kittiwake and she stopped to talk.

No one alerted her to the bird’s distress, and she drove on.

“I thought they were having the best day of their lives,” she said. “It was only waist-deep water. … I’ve rescued hundreds of birds from this pier.

“It makes me kind of sick to my stomach that these people drove hours to watch a bird die.”

Foster has since posted signs with pictures telling anglers what to do if they hook a bird. She put together rescue kits that have line cutters and other equipment to be kept at bait shops on the north and south piers, and there’s a large net suitable for scooping birds from the water, which bird rescuers say is less likely to cause injury than hauling the animals up on the line.

But Reed said there’s no simple way to report birds in trouble. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission advises people to call its hotline, 1-888-404-3922. Depending on the location, the commission will provide a list of bird rescuers that might collect the bird and take it to a rehabilitation facility, said Amy Clifton, a species conservation biologist at the commission. Apart from that, there is no central number to call for help.

FWC officials say there’s no law requiring fishermen to remove hooks and fishing line from unintentionally trapped birds. Reed and Paul said people should feel compelled to do it anyway, and Neil Taylor, a fishing guide in Tampa Bay for eight years, agreed —with reservations.

“Yes, since they (fishermen) are the ones in the bird’s habitat,” Taylor said, then added, “I’d hate to tell someone they’re obligated to do it and then they lose an eye.”

Anglers and bird experts interviewed agreed that basic procedures for handling hooked birds are largely the same but can vary by species. Some birds can inflict serious wounds with their beaks, while others pose more threat with talons or wings, Taylor said.

Taylor said people are not required to learn bird-handling techniques to get a fishing license, and he doubted the state will ever require it. He favors education, and he is hoping to attract a grant to pay for billboards addressing the fishing line issue.

Reed and Liz Vreeland, a longtime bird rescuer in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, said they would like to organize trained volunteers to regularly monitor popular fishing spots and work with fishermen to reduce bird casualties.

Lee Fox, who has nursed countless birds back to health at her Sarasota facility, Save Our Seabirds, said those are good ideas, but the best lesson people could learn is to stop endangering wild animals by feeding them.

“Everybody throws the fish they don’t want to the birds,” she said, adding that many coastal birds are supposed to fly south in winter to prowl warmer waters, but they stay where people with more sophisticated fishing equipment do the work for them.

“They want a free handout,” Fox said. “If we can stop the people from feeding them, that’s the campaign we have to start.”

Save the birds

For tips on freeing birds from fishing line, visit saveourseabirds.org/education.aspx

More thoughts for anglers in action:
By Neil Taylor www.capmel.com
Guide and owner at Strike Three Kayak Fishing

As a fishing guide putting a lot of time in on the water, I have been the one to handle hooked birds dozens of times. One of the biggest errors I see made is people dangling a hooked fish long enough for a pelican to dive on it. If people do it once they know. Jamie Foster and the people at the Skyway Piers probably encounters this one more than anyone. Birds eat fish, it is what they do.   Do your best not to leave a target for them to dive on to avoid having to liberate a bird from hooks, lures or fishing line.  When it happens, another major failure in decision making is to “cut the line.”    This leads to what I call “the gallows birds.”   Line trailing from the bird that will eventually tangle on something and the bird will one way or another face a slow and painful death.

Handling a hooked bird can be done efficiently. I always have a good pair of pliers available but sometimes a scissors is even more helpful. A lot of the birds may have line wrapped around a wing instead of actually “hooked.” This happens most often when they fly into someone’s line.   (Potentially avoidable, the alert angler watches for low-flying birds.   If there is a low-flying bird that may hit the fishing line, drop your rod tip down into the water and the bird will pass safely above the floating line)

The process of getting the bird to you can be interesting.   The birds will fight this.   Try to maintain steady pressure to bring the bird toward you without allowing the bird to wrap in the line worse or drown the bird.   Braided lines can cut you badly so avoid wrapping these lines around your fingers when you handle it.   The buddy system is ideal with one person controlling the bird with the fishing rod while the specialist assigned to the task of free-ing the bird has the tools and is ready to do the dirty work.

Evaluating a situation, sometimes you can get a hold of the lure or hook and see the direction the line is wrapped around the wing. With the scissors, the rescuer can determine a location to cut the line staying clear of the freaked out bird and the line, without the knot or the lure/hook to foul on the fowl the line will slide or unwrap from the wing.

Pelicans and osprey will also dive on baits or lures. Big topwater lures are a target, looking like a meal. With a pelican, this is going to be a hookup in the mouth, with the osprey a talon. With the pelican, when I am at water level, I will bring it up to me slowly and then as gently as I can, control it by grabbing he leader (braided lines will cut your hands badly). I will try to grab the bird by the head or the neck close to the head and with my pliers that I “got out and ready” (so I can do this fast and no searching for it) I remove the hook. With the osprey, I am very careful and I usually take some extra time hoping that it relaxes. Like the pelicans, they do NOT like being that close to a human. I try to wait until they look away and then I try to make as little movement as possible when I reach over to remove the hook. I’m ready to pull my hand and arm away fast if they move to defend themself.

Being alert avoids the situation altogether.   A pelican or osprey in free dive on your topwater lure will not be hooked if you jerk the lure away from that location before the bird gets to it.   Like the low-flying bird flying into your line after a long cast, awareness and action prevents the dilemma.

People will talk about using a towel or shirt to help subdue the bird, which I think is legit but I can do it without having one.   I have learned this because I usually do not have something readily available to utilize.

Not unique to just Florida, birds diving on fish is something that happens all over the world.   The situations will be similar and the goal is to address these situations as quickly as possible and try to avoid having the spooked animal cause harm to you.   Speed prohibits calling in experts in most cases.   Do it safely and try to do it expediently.




Neil Taylor

Full time kayak fishing guide, Neil was an advocate for conservation since before the time he started guiding.Outdoor writer, speaker and radio show host, Neil connected closely with Captain Mel Berman and did many positives with Mel to promote ethical angling. After Mel passed away, Neil managed www.capmel.com and eventually became that web site’s owner.
Neil Taylor

Latest posts by Neil Taylor (see all)