Dangers of Discarded Fishing Line

Blake Mathys


On September 10th, 2014, I was demonstrating mist-netting and bird banding to my General Biology and Environmental Science students at Ohio Dominican University. While standing near the mist-nets, some of students asked, "What's that?", and started using binoculars to look up into the trees behind me. I looked up and saw a large bird hanging in midair; with binoculars I realized that it was an adult Red-tailed Hawk, and it seemed to have fishing line wrapped around its left wing. I could see the line running from the wing to the branch above it, with more line running to other branches. I suggested to my students that the hawk had likely accidentally gotten tangled in the fishing line (perhaps a hook had helped), and then when it landed in the tree, the line had become wrapped around the branches, preventing the hawk from leaving and eventually killing it. I said that this was a good example of an important reason that fishermen should be careful with their fishing line and not discard it into the environment. It is certainly not the first bird I've seen injured by fishing line, but I didn't realize that this dead hawk wasn't the end of this incident...

A few pictures of the hawk:

It was a busy day, with me setting up and taking down the nets and students present for about four and a half straight hours, so I was unable to get photographs of the bird. I returned the following morning (the 11th) to get the photographs above. I tried a few different angles, the overcast sky making photography a little challenging (I was 'digi-binning', taking pictures through my binoculars with a point-and-shoot digital camera). I was almost finished photographing when I looked more carefully at the fishing line, trying to see if I could somehow get it out of the tree, when I noticed this:

A Northern Flicker, dead and stuck on the line. I assume it flew into the line after the hawk brought the line into the tree, but that is just conjecture. I was shocked and saddened to find this second dead bird, and so I repeat my plea: "If you fish, make sure your line comes back with you." Please show this to interested friends, especially fishermen, so we can prevent some of these unnecessary deaths in the future.

Finally, let me say that I can't be absolutely certain that this is fishing line...but it sure looked like it, and that seems to be the best explanation.


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