Pier patrol rescues royal tern with fishing hook injury

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A royal tern was among the 119 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a limpkin, a common gallinule, a boat-tailed grackle, a common nighthawk, an evening bat, and a gopher tortoise.

A City of Naples Pier Outreach Pelican Patrol Staff member rescued the royal tern when she saw the bird trying to eat discarded scraps of fish off the Naples Pier. As she approached, she saw a fishing hook pierced through the tern’s lower beak. The tern was so weak she had no trouble capturing the bird. The injury from the hook was an old wound and the hook was so deeply embedded, pain medication and a sedative were required to remove the hook.

Along with the injury from the fishing hook, the tern was also severely underweight. The tern was started on an antibiotic, Chinese herbs, fluids, an anti-parasitic, and supplemental feeding. The tern rebounded quickly with appropriate medical care and proper nutrition. When finished with the antibiotic, the tern will be moved from the bird recovery area in the hospital to an outdoor flight enclosure where it can regain muscle strength and acclimate to outdoor weather conditions.

The royal tern is one of four royal terns found at the Naples Pier injured by fishing hooks and line currently recovering at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. Many shorebirds suffer injuries due to fishing hooks and line. These injuries are often preventable if anglers utilize responsible fishing practices. Minimize wildlife injuries by never leaving baited hooks and fishing poles unattended, do not cast your line if birds are flying nearby, never hand-fed fish scraps to wildlife, use barbless hooks, and chose a different fishing spot if wildlife is present.

Accidentally hooking a bird while fishing does happen. When handled properly, the suffering the bird endures is minimized. Handled improperly and the bird will suffer significant injury, like the aforementioned royal tern did, or death. Purposely cutting the line and allowing the bird to fly off with a hook embedded in its body is reckless and inhumane.

If a bird becomes entangled in your line, reel the bird in carefully but quickly. A bird struggling against a taut line may cause the monofilament line to break. After the bird is reeled in, cover its head with a towel to help calm the bird. If the hook isn’t deeply embedded, gently push the hook through until the barb is exposed. Clip the barb off and back the hook out. Step away and allow the bird time to gain its bearings and fly off. If the hook is deeply embedded, or if the hook has been ingested, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention.

Protecting our natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. People must be willing to change their behaviors and be more aware and respectful of other living creatures living in the same spaces inhabited by humans.

Recent Releases

An osprey, two northern cardinals, a laughing gull, five northern mockingbirds, five eastern cottontails, a common grackle, three royal terns, a broad-winged hawk, three marsh rabbits, a pileated woodpecker, a brown thrasher and a mourning dove were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Support the Conservancy’s mission to protect native wildlife. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital hosted a virtual Wildlife Hospital Baby Shower on June 5 raising awareness and support for the hospital’s youngest patients. Hospital staff is incredibly grateful to everyone who has already donated items in support of our work. Gifts can be donated online through the Conservancy’s Amazon Wish List through the month of June. Visit www.conservancy.org/babyshower. Every donation supports the Conservancy’s work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

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