A Tangled Up Great Blue Heron Returns Home to Scappoose Bay

It was a serene Tuesday morning like any other on beautiful Scappoose Bay, home to waterfowl, raptors and water-loving humans out kayaking, paddle-boarding and fishing. Yet the serenity turned to physical pain for one Great Blue Heron when he found himself with a fish hook lodged in the hock joint of his right leg. To make matters worse, fishing line was wrapped around his secondary feathers. It’s no wonder by the time he arrived at Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center that late-August afternoon, this Heron was agitated.

“He was very feisty,” said Care Center vet tech Danny Rost, who detangled the bird’s feathers and anesthetized his leg to remove the hook.

Once free from fishing gear, it was only a few days before the Heron graduated from the Care Center’s largest indoor cage to our outdoor mews. Despite the fact that many Herons don’t eat well in rehab captivity, this one did.

When humans go fishing, they can pose serious hazards to wildlife including turtles, mammals and birds. Birds are up against an array of fishing-related threats, from getting caught up in long fishing lines used in commercial fishing to inadvertent hooking by everyday recreational anglers. A 2011 Endangered Species Research study estimated that at least 160,000 seabirds are killed annually when they are caught unintentionally as bycatch, the collateral damage of targeted fishing operations.

Indeed, here in the Care Center we’ve provided refuge and medical care to a variety of feathered creatures that have been ensnared in fishing line, including a Canada Goose, a Glaucous-winged Gull and a Bald Eagle who got wrapped up in the same sharp tangles that had already caught his would-be Merganser meal.

All sorts of nets and stringy things can snag wildlife, from kite strings or holiday light wires wrapped around an unsuspecting bird’s leg to  to soccer netting entrapping rabbits or owls at night. And those plastic six-pack rings? Despite the fact that many are now photodegradable, birds and other animals still get stuck in them within the weeks before they biodegrade, so it’s still a good idea to cut them before they’re discarded. Minimizing stringy material in our environment is a great way to protect birds and other wildlife.

Thankfully for our recent Great Blue Heron patient, rehabilitation came quickly. After around ten days in the Care Center, he was quite rambunctious and definitely ready to get back out to his Scappoose Bay home where he was soon released by veterinarian Stacy Montgomerie.

How can we ensure fishing areas are safe for birds and other wildlife? Ideally, when fishing, people should be cognizant of wildlife in the area. Simply ensuring that fishing tackle is not left behind after use, and picking up fish hooks or other accoutrements found lying around docks are important steps when ending any fishing expedition.

Kate Kaye is a volunteer at Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center. A veteran tech and data reporter who has appeared on NPR’s On the Media, Weekend Edition Sunday and at events held by Yale Law School and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Kate is also the author of the book, “Campaign ’08: A Turning Point for Digital Media.”