Brown Pelicans are especially vulnerable to fishing line because of their foraging behavior – tracking and picking out the injured fish in a school. Sometimes, that injured fish is the bait on a fisherman’s hook. If the fisherman does not reel the bird in and release it, but cuts the line with a long strand, the pelican flies back to its roost, often a bird colony island. There, the line becomes tangled in trees, and the pelican, hopelessly caught, dies of dehydration. Once the line is on the bird island trees, like spiderweb stretching between branches, it can catch and kill more birds.
That is why Audubon and our volunteers in coordination with Tampa Bay Watch and Sarasota Bay Watch go to the bird islands and remove any fishing line or other debris that might catch birds. But we do this only in the fall when most birds are not nesting on these islands. Rescuing snared birds or removing line in a colony full of adult birds can cause a lot of disturbance. It can cause baby birds to jump out of their nests, or adult birds to fly and leave their eggs and young exposed to predation by crows or death from temperature stress. Baby birds which can not fly might not be able to make it back into their own nests and will die of starvation.