Patient of the Week: One Lucky (Mallard) Duck

By Ashley Lema, Wildlife Rehabilitator

A few weeks ago, we received this Mallard from a good Samaritan that found them at Klineline Pond in Vancouver, Washington. The rescuer noticed the duck had fishing line hanging out of their mouth, and knew they needed to get help. Upon arrival at our Wildlife Care Center, I was so happy to find that the rescuer did not try to cut or remove the line! While fishing line alone can cause horrific injuries, I was worried about what was on the other end of that line and where it was in the bird’s system. Sometimes folks will trim the line hoping to allow the tackle to pass through the bird’s digestive system, but hooks rarely pass on their own, and having some length to the line coming out of the bird’s mouth makes removing hooks much easier for us. Not to mention allowing lead tackle to sit in the bird’s system for any length of time can lead to severe lead toxicity and often death.

The Mallard with fishing line coming out of their mouth and right after we removed the fishing hook and line.
The Mallard with fishing line coming out of their mouth and right after we removed the fishing hook and line.

Radiographs showed us exactly what I was expecting – a hook – but thankfully it was a small hook and it was only partially down the bird’s throat. Between two staff members, and a few tools and tricks, we were able to successfully (and safely) dislodge the hook from the Mallards mouth, and with it all the fishing line!

After a few weeks in care, antibiotics and pain meds, the duck was ready to go home! One of our amazing volunteers drove the Mallard back to their lake, where they quickly flew away; a sure sign they were happy to be free again, and a rewarding moment for us all.

Mallards are the most common and recognizable ducks in Oregon, and even the most well known duck in the world! Adult males sport their iconic iridescent green head, white collar, and bright yellow bill. They have brown chests, white-gray bellies, gray-brown wings, and a black rump with white-bordered tail feathers and a curl of black feathers to top it all off. Females and juveniles are mottled brown with orange bills and legs. Both female and male Mallards have a white-bordered patch of incredible blue-purple feathers on their wings. Ducklings are yellow and black with a stripe going through each eye before they begin growing adult feathers.

The female Mallard is the sole caretaker of her young, sometimes up to 13 babies! Many people romanticize and anthropomorphize mating in wild animals, even to the point where they don’t want to bring us the animal out of fear of separating them from their mate or family, but it’s usually not true. Mallards do not mate for life, and are often just socially monogamous, meaning that while the female may be paired with one male, she may mate with others who can end up being the biological father of the brood. In addition, male ducks also regularly force copulation on females, paired or not. Once the female lays her eggs, the male leaves before they even hatch, and the female raises all of the babies on her own.

Mallard and Ducklings, photo by Peter Trimming

Mallards can live in almost any habitat with water nearby! Mallards are omnivorous, with a majority of their diet consisting of plant material. They also eat insects, crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, frogs, earthworms, and even small fish. Ducklings may eat mostly aquatic insects on top of the water. These ducks are in the group of surface-feeding ducks known as “dabblers,” which means rather than submerging or diving for food, they tip forward–tail in the air and head down in the water. They will also walk around on land to graze, picking at vegetation and prey on the ground.

In city parks, they readily accept handouts from visitors which may seem nice but it is actually harmful. Please do not feed them – it is always best to enjoy our local waterfowl from a distance, respecting and maintaining their wildness. The age-old practice of feeding ducks and geese is bad for both the bird’s health and the environment. Foods like bread and crackers are unnatural and unhealthy, and while they may be eating they are not getting the nutrients they need–and this can have fatal consequences. But regardless of the type of food, encouraging wild animals to approach humans for their needs is dangerous for everyone involved. Throwing food to them also damages water quality and contributes to overpopulation – which further degrades the wetland environment, as well as leads to increased disease outbreaks in animal populations.

How You Can Help

    • When fishing, use a line with the right strength for the fish you’re after to reduce the chances it will break. We often receive fish-eating birds that have ingested fishing hooks and tackle that were lost this way.
    • If you accidentally tangle your line in a bush or tree, do everything you can to recover the line rather than just cutting it and leaving it as a potential trap for the next animal that comes by.
    • Use non-lead fishing tackle. Lead is toxic to wildlife if ingested. There are good alternatives that don’t have the same effects if it ends up in the environment. 
    • If you’re ever out exploring, and see fishing line or other dangerous litter, pick it up and dispose of it properly–leave places better than you found them!

What to Do If You Find an Entangled Animal

    • If you ever find a wild animal entangled in fishing line, do not cut it any more than needed to bring the animal in. Often that is our first instinct, but your local wildlife rehabilitator will thank you if you refrain because we can often use the line to locate and remove embedded hooks.
    • Don’t try to remove hooks yourself – the process is painful and extremely frightening for the animal, and there are specialized techniques that trained rehabilitators use to prevent causing additional damage during removal. 
    • The best thing you can do is contain the animal in a securely closed (but ventilated) box and keep the animal quiet and undisturbed until you can transport it to your closest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Do not offer food or water.

Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Wildlife Care Center accepts new patients from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day. You can also leave a message on our Wildlife Hotline at (503) 292-0304 or email and one of our wildlife solutions counselors will get back to you and provide advice for your specific situation.


We’re building a new Wildlife Care Center and need your help! If you would like to help injured and orphaned wildlife, please consider joining our crowdfunding campaign and making a gift to make this new facility a reality. We’re doubling the square footage, adding a surgical suite, and making many more important changes to provide the best care for our patients. Learn more at ForPortlandBird Alliance of

If you’d like to contribute to the Wildlife Care Center, please consider making a donation here. Your support helps us save lives.