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Caught a Bird Fishing Don’t Cut Line – Reel Remove Release

It’s a beautiful day and the fishing is good. Suddenly, the line snags on something as the cast is made. A bird is hooked. Don’t panic. There’s a way to get that bird released. Reel Remove Release

Photo by Jay Holcomb

“The first thing to know is don’t cut the line,” said Kevin Oxenrider, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Birds that fly away with hook and line attached are at risk of getting entangled in trees and dying. And that line is left to possibly snare other wildlife.”

The FWC has come out with these steps to rescue a hooked bird: Reel in the bird. Remove the hook. Release the bird. Go to for details.

“If possible, enlist others for assistance,” Oxenrider said.

Reel the bird in slowly and evenly. Don’t try to shake the bird loose by jerking the line – it will inflict additional injury to the bird.

Make sure that the bird remains on the water until a net, such as a hoop net, can be used to lift it out of the water. Birds reeled up out of the water can be seriously injured, or can potentially damage fishing equipment.

Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Take extra care to protect yourself when handling long-billed wading birds and hooked-billed cormorants

“Many people are afraid to grab a large bird like a pelican, but there’s a way to do it without hurting the bird or the rescuer,” Oxenrider explained.

Firmly grasp the bird’s head behind the eyes. Then fold the wings up gently but firmly against the bird’s body so that it can’t flap its wings, and hold the legs. Hold firmly but don’t strangle the bird. If it is a pelican, hold the beak but keep it slightly open so the bird can breathe. 

Rescuers can also cover the bird’s head with a towel, hat, shirt or other cloth. This will calm the bird and make it easier to remove the line and/or hook.

Remove the hook by cutting the barb and backing the hook out. If the barb is imbedded in the bird’s flesh, push the hook through until the barb emerges from the skin and then clip the barb.

If the bird is entangled in line, use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut the line.  Place the cut line in a monofilament recycling bin, or cut the line into small (less than 3-inch) pieces and place in a lidded trashcan. Carefully check the bird for other hooks or line and remove them too.

If the bird is feisty, it is likely healthy enough to release. Place the bird’s feet on the ground and step back while you release the bird. Let the bird take off on its own. Sometimes birds shake out their feathers, assess the situation and are then ready to fly. Other times, they just take off. Either way, this represents a successful release.

If the bird has swallowed the hook, or is severely injured, take it to a local rehabilitator. For a list of rehabbers in your area, go to: and click on “Learn about Wildlife,” then “Unhook Seabirds” and “list of rehabilitators” near the bottom of the page.

Monofilament and fishing tackle left in the environment create potential traps for unsuspecting wildlife that become entangled or snared, leading to injury and death.

What can you do to prevent bird entanglement?

“By being responsible anglers and spreading the word about ‘Don’t cut the line! Reel. Remove. Release’ (at we can save birds and other wildlife from becoming entangled and losing their lives,” Oxenrider said.








One of Florida Keys Treasures is all the beautiful birdlife you can watch and photograph. Here are a few of my favorite birds: Rosette Spoonbill, Albatross, Seagull, Great Blue Heron, Osprey AKA Fish Hawk, Pink Flamingo, and the Brown Pelican. 

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