Hooked or Entangled Birds

Have you ever hooked or entangled a bird unintentionally while fishing? Don’t worry! You won’t get in trouble and there are some simple steps you can take that will save the bird’s life. These instructions will apply to those of you who may have found a bird hooked or tangled in fishing line as well.

Remember! If you don’t unhook and disentangle the bird, it is almost certain to eventually die from infection from a hook-related injury or due to the line hampering its movements, constricting its circulation, or tangling so badly that the bird becomes trapped. A pelican trailing fishing line will return to its nesting colony and entangle numerous other birds. It is never safe for a bird to be trailing line.

Steps to Help Hooked or Entangled Birds
Adapted from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

  1. If you are with other people, enlist their help.
  2. Reel the bird in slowly and evenly. Don’t try to shake the bird loose by jerking the line, as it will inflict additional injury to the bird. Do not cut the line–the bird may fly free temporarily, but the trailing line will entangle it again eventually.
  3. If fishing from a pier, make sure that the bird remains on the water until a net or some other tool can be used to lift it onto the pier. Birds reeled up onto piers can be seriously injured, or can potentially damage fishing equipment. Do not use the line that the bird is caught on to support the weight of the bird.
  4. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Birds don’t have dangerous bites, but they can poke your eyes (especially egrets and herons) and some (like pelicans and cormorants) have a hook at the tip of their bills.
  5. Firmly grasp the bird’s head behind the eyes. Then fold the wings up gently but firmly against the bird’s body so that it can’t flap its wings. Hold firmly but don’t strangle the bird. If it has long legs, tuck the legs up underneath it too, either by holding them or placing the bird on a flat surface. If it is a pelican, you can hold the beak but keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe.
  6. If possible, cover the bird’s head with a towel, hat, shirt, or other cloth. This will calm the bird and make it easier for you to remove the line and/or hook.
  7. Remove the hook by cutting the barb and backing the hook out. If the barb is in the bird’s flesh, push the hook through until the barb emerges from the skin and then clip the barb. This is the same process you would use if you hooked a person.
  8. If the bird is entangled in line, use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut the line. Make sure that you secure the line and dispose of it properly after you are done working on the bird.
  9. Carefully check the bird over for other hooks or line and remove them too.
  10. If the bird is feisty and any wounds it sustained are minor, it is likely healthy enough to release. Point its head towards the water and step back while you let go of the bird. Let the bird take off on its own–it might need to compose itself before it can take off safely Sometimes birds shake their feathers out, assess the situation, and then are ready to fly. Other times, they just take off. Both are normal, and you can consider your rescue successful.
  11. If the bird has a serious injury, if you cannot remove the hook, or if you don’t know if you removed all the fishing line, call Sea Biscuit and make sure the bird receives treatment for its problems.