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Screech Owl Gets the Chance to Soar Again

Bird was one of dozens of fishing line victims

  • Cape Wildlife Center employees carefully freed the owl from the fishing line. Dr. Roberto Aguilar/The HSUS

by Deborah Millman

Fishing lines and tackle pose a real threat to birds and other animals living in or near the water.

Fish hooks become embedded in wings and flippers, animals eat discarded sinkers and develop lead poisoning, and fishing line ensnares and injures them, often fatally.

Tiny owl in distress

In mid-July, a Plymouth County, Mass., woman was driving home from work when she spotted a tiny Eastern screech owl, hanging from and heavily entangled by a fishing line and a fish hook.

She cut him free and brought him to the Cape Wildlife Center.

Screech owls are smaller than a juice glass, ranging in size from about six to nine inches and weighing less than nine ounces. The fishing line had immobilized this tiny owl; if he had not been found, he would have starved to death or been killed by a predator.

Fatal fishing line

"Even the shortest length of fishing line can seriously injure or kill wildlife," noted Cape Wildlife Center Veterinarian Roberto Aguilar. "It slashes through flippers and feet and, once the line is entangled in feathers, it wraps around the feather shaft and is impossible for the bird to remove without assistance."

Don't trash wildlife! See six quick tips for avoiding wildlife injuries[PDF].

Fortunately for the Eastern screech owl, Cape Wildlife Center staff were able to free him from the line and, soon after, release him back where he lived.

An ongoing threat to wildlife

Unfortunately for wildlife in general, the Eastern screech owl's situation was far from unique.

"In the last 15 months, the Cape Wildlife Center has admitted 37 animals who were ensnared in fishing line, ranging from the tiny Eastern Screech Owl to gannets, loons, cormorants, geese, and turtles," said Cape Wildlife Center Director Deborah Robbins Millman.

"No animal that flies near or swims in the water is immune from the risk posed by fishing tackle and lines. We urge all those who fish to take all their fishing lines and tackle back home with them—it could save a life."

Deborah Millman is director of the Cape Wildlife Center, operated by The HSUS in partnership with The Fund for Animals.

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