Another busy season is upon us here in the Florida Keys. Many tourists are flocking here to escape the cold snow and enjoy our warm 80-degree winter. Sunny skies, calm seas and warm temperatures–not our normal winter, but we won’t complain.
This time of the year, while touring through the mangroves looking for various forms of wildlife, it never fails; we always come across fishing line and hooks stuck in the mangroves. At first, it looks like a spiderweb, but, taking a closer look, you can see it is monofilament from a fisherman who cast too high or close to the tree and got stuck. Unfortunately, for the birds, most of the fishermen have a slim chance of getting that line untangled. So, the line gets cut and left strung across several branches, creating a death trap for all the nesting birds.
Most of the mangrove islands we visit frequently are nesting areas for tons of birds this time of the year. The egrets, herons, cormorants and osprey also flock down to the warmer weather to breed. The same way the monofilament is designed to be invisible for the fish, the birds have trouble seeing it and avoiding a tangle with it. If you have ever watched a large bird, such as a pelican or heron, land in a tree, it isn’t the most graceful scene. With all the flapping and balancing they do, once they land, it is very easy for them to get a wing stuck in the fishing line. Once tangled, they have a very slim chance to get untangled without breaking a wing, which is also another death sentence for a bird. If they can’t fly most of the time, they can’t find food to eat.
Along with the fishing line being a problem, the fishing hook is usually what catches the tree branch. Most hooks being cast out have some sort of bait fish or shrimp, which is also food for the birds. Any wild animal is always going to eat a free meal over working for one. Young birds happen to try to eat the bait fish and, inevitably, swallow a hook. A fishing hook is not something that can be digested or pass easily though a bird, leading to the bird having a blocked intestine or an infection.
On many of our tours, recently, we have come across a few tangled birds. If the bird is low enough and accessible, we try to help it. If the tangle is recent, the bird is still very active, so approaching the bird slowly and calmly is important. The bird could get scared and try to fly away making the tangle worse, as well as possibly breaking bones. If we can successfully cut the line to free the bird, we do, but this has to be done with experience. On charters, in the last two months alone, I have seen about a dozen birds tangled in line, but, unfortunately, we have only been able to help two of them. Most of them have been tangled too high or are already dead.
If you are out fishing in a boat or kayak, try to cast low towards water, not high into the trees. If you happen to catch a tree, which is sometimes common, try to retrieve all the line you can, as well as the hook or lure. If you are out boating and you find there is a bird tangled, you can always call FWC (305) 470-6863 to report it, or the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary (305) 852-4486. These services will try to rescue the bird, rehabilitate it, and release it back to the spot they found it. While boating or kayaking, also keep your eyes open for the fishing line. If you happen to see a strand of fishing line, try to take it off the tree and bring it back to land to dispose of it properly. Every little bit helps.