Fishing debris poses threats to wildlife, but this Glaucous-winged Gull beat the odds

By Kelsey Kuhnhausen, Communications Coordinator

When you cast your fishing line, the last thing you’d expect to hook is a bird. While that scenario may sound absurd, it’s actually quite common.

Birds and other wildlife face many human-caused hazards on our beaches and in our rivers, but one of the leading causes of harm is fishing line, hooks, and tackle.

“We see this often in the Care Center,” said Wildlife Care Center Manager Lacy Campbell. “Fishing line and hooks are common threats to wildlife, affecting everything from gulls to osprey to beavers. It can cause debilitation and even death.”

As scavengers and recyclers in the wild, Glaucous-winged Gulls eat anything from fish to other birds to debris, plunging into the surface of the water or just below looking for food. This makes them especially susceptible to the dangers of fishing lines and hooks. While many wildlife encounters with fishing debris don’t end well, a seabird in Scappoose had a second chance at survival thanks to a caring individual.

In early January, a Glaucous-winged Gull was found on a doorstep at a moorage with a fishing hook lodged in the nares (or nostrils) of its beak. Its rescuer attempted to feed the Gull, but soon discovered that not only was it hooked, but fishing line was impeding its ability to eat.

The Gull was brought to our Wildlife Care Center for treatment for injuries to its beak and its inability to eat. After examination, he was also found to be underweight.

In this particular case, it was difficult to determine if the bird was debilitated before or after it was hooked.

“Sometimes animals are debilitated and get further injuries as a result. It was unclear if there was another injury first and then it came in contact with the hook, or if the hook was the only cause of debilitation,” said Lacy.

Fishing lure after it was removed from the gull's bill.

The first step in the treatment was to address the injury to the beak. This included extracting the hook and fishing line, which had to be cut out of its beak. The bird was given fluids, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medication. Over the next several weeks, care for the gull included regular checkups, monitoring, and continuation of antibiotics.

Once the beak was fully healed, the gull was moved to an outdoor enclosure, where it was given time to build up its strength after weeks of indoor care. Before any bird is released, they must be able to get off the ground, maintain lift in the air, maneuver around obstacles during flight  – all of which the Gull accomplished with ease.

Once a flight assessment was cleared, the seabird was taken in for a final evaluation. With a well-healed beak, strong flight, and stabilized weight, the gull was cleared for release. On a foggy afternoon in February, the Glaucous-winged Gull was set free, soaring high over the houseboats along the Multnomah Channel in Scappoose – the same place it was found.

We’ve shared stories of animals treated in our Care Center who have suffered after coming into contact with fishing line and hooks, like a Canada goose who had fishing wire around his neck or the Red-breasted Mergansers and Bald Eagle who became ensnared in the same line.

So what can we do? Mitigating risks from fishing debris can be challenging, although not impossible. One of the best ways to prevent this from happening is to pick up and properly dispose of fishing debris and trash.

“Pick up any fishing hooks or debris that you encounter,” said Lacy. “Everything you do leaves a trace. Every action has ramifications.”

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.