Fishing line and birds can be a deadly combination.
On Thursday morning, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge received a call from Destin Yacht Club, alerting them that a great blue heron was tangled in fishing line in a tree behind the yacht club, Stephanie Kadletz, wildlife health supervisor at Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, told The Log.
Debbie Edwards, who’s on the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge’s board of directors, responded to the call. After arriving on scene, she could not immediately assist the bird because it was about 40 feet up in a tree.
While Coastline Tree Service in Destin scrambled to the scene with their bucket truck, Kadletz said the bird, which was standing in the tree, when it lost its footing and then went limp.
Edwards choked back tears as she described the incident to The Log.
“Basically, he ended up slipping and hanging himself,” Edwards said.
She said that he was in really bad shape and that even if they had gotten him down before he “expired,” his chances of survival were slim.
“When we got this guy down basically he had a fish hook in his mouth that was wrapped around the tree and he couldn’t free himself,” Edwards said. “If I thought I could climb the tree and get to him I would have, but I would’ve just put myself in danger.”
Edwards said that about 75 percent of the herons and pelicans the ECWR sees come in with fishing line injuries.
Kadletz said in the last two weeks, ECWR has had about 15 different birds — pelicans and great blue herons — come in with fishing line entanglement.
These birds were from places like Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Navarre and Santa Rosa Beach.
She said that at least four or five of the birds were from Destin, most of which were near Destin harbor.
“Most of them survived,” she said. “I think we probably lost about two of them.”
This statistic includes the heron that died on Thursday as well as one that died the day prior.
On Wednesday, Edwards responded to a heron floating in the middle of the Destin harbor attached to a dead heron and tangled in fishing line. She said that this is not the first time this has happened.
“A lot of times, people are casting their lines and they’ll be pulling up a fish, and the pelicans or fish will go after those fish on the lines and the fishermen just cut the lines on them,” said Kadletz.
The birds then get tangled up in the extra line hanging off of them.
“Generally, the best thing for the fishermen to do, if they do happen to catch one of these birds on their line, is to try to reel the bird in and call the refuge to remove the hooks properly, and make sure that they don’t get entangled further down the road,” Kadletz said. “Generally, we can get the line off of them and treat their injuries and get the hooks out. And most of the time they do fairly well.”
Efficiently disposing of fishing line will help to prevent these types of situations.
ECWR is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and can be reached at 850-650-1880. After hours, contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922.