The latest danger that has come to the attention of Los Angeles Audubon is discarded monofilament fishing line. Monofilament fishing line, though it may look harmless, is deadly to birds. It is designed to be invisible to fish, but it is also invisible to birds. Entanglements with fishing line have led to the deaths of thousands of birds, as well as the amputation of limbs of many others. Shorebirds and waterfowl are particularly susceptible to entanglement with fishing line when they forage for food. Birds may also become impaled with hooks, and if they are hooked in the neck or swallow the hook it will prevent them from feeding and they will die of starvation.
Several recent incidents have raised the awareness of this problem. The first was on March 18 and involved me personally when I found a Royal Tern along the Ballona Creek bike path. The bird was standing just off the path, shaking its head involuntarily. A woman nearby said that she and her boyfriend had removed a hook from its neck (kind, but not the smartest thing to try on your own) and some fishing line that was wound around its neck. Eleanor Osgood rescued the bird, but it died that night.
A second incident was on March 30, reported in the LA County Birds listserve. David Chadsey of Etiwanda reported seeing a “gull tied to a white buoy directly out from the little green pier. It appeared to be caught in a long loop of fishing line and was struggling to get airborne.” This lucky bird was saved by the lifeguards at the lake, who went out in their patrol boat and rescued the gull.
The third incident, reported by Judith Raskin of Echo Park, involved the near-strangulation of a Double-crested Cormorant on April 10. Barbara Jarvik found the “hapless cormorant dangling from fishing line in a eucalyptus tree.” The LAFD was called and fortunately was able to cut the bird down before it strangled to death. This bird likely survived; others are not so lucky.
Many people are surprised to hear that it takes fishing line 600 years to break down in the environment. That's six times longer than tin cans and batteries, 17 times longer than fishing nets, and 40 times longer than plastic bags. This makes fishing line a real danger that does not go away, making clean-up and recycling of this lethal waste material a critical issue.
All these hazards to birds due to human activity are preventable. With education and raising the awareness of the public, these threats to birds can be managed and even eliminated. Birds deserve as much of a chance to survive as human beings do. We at Audubon believe in being good neighbors and sharing the environment with birds rather than usurping it from them.
If you would like to become involved in our conservation efforts, we would welcome all the help we can get. These problems won’t go away on their own; it takes people to undo the problems created by people. So do something nice for the birds for a change and volunteer on one of Los Angeles Audubon’s conservation projects today!