Belted Kingfisher Tangled in Fishing Line

February 25, 2023

Joanna Fitzgerald is the Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239-262-2273 for wildlife assistance or see

A belted kingfisher and a gopher tortoise were among the twenty-six animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include an American robin, two double-crested cormorants, a common loon, a red-shouldered hawk, a nine-banded armadillo and a yellow-bellied slider.

Rescued from Fishing Line

The belted kingfisher was reported entangled in fishing line near the Goodland Bridge.

It was early evening before a volunteer could be found to help with the rescue. The volunteer retrieved the kingfisher, but was unable to transport. Thankfully, Brittany Piersma, Field Biologist for Audubon of the Western Everglades offered to bring the kingfisher to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care.

The kingfisher’s body was completely wrapped in fishing line. The bird had an increased respiratory effort and was clearly stressed from the ordeal. Swelling was noted at the left shoulder, elbow and the right wing had an overall laxity. The kingfisher’s right foot had a weak grip and the right wing feathers were tattered from struggling against the line. Staff administered pain medication and settled the bird in an animal intensive care unit on supplemental oxygen to rest for the night. 

A belted kingfisher entangled in fishing line was admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital after being rescued from the Goodland Bridge. The kingfisher suffered abrasions and soft tissue trauma struggling against the line.

The following morning, the kingfisher was alert and responsive. Kingfishers tend to be a high stressed species so additional medication was prescribed to calm the bird; Chinese herbs and laser therapy were added to the treatment plan. Minimal handling was required to reduce stress but the kingfisher would not eat on his own, therefore, staff needed to handle twice daily to hand feed fish.

By day three, the kingfisher began to eat on his own which eliminated some of the daily handling. The kingfisher was finally released after several days in our care.

Kingfisher release

If you participate in angling activities, take precautions to avoid injuring nearby birds.

Check to ensure no birds are flying by as you cast your line and never leave baited hooks and line unattended. If you accidentally hook a bird, stay calm and don’t cut the line. Slowly reel the bird in and cover its head and body with a towel. Covering the head calms the bird making it easier to handle. Carefully push the hook through to expose the barb. Cut the barb and gently back the barbless hook out. Bring the bird to the wildlife hospital if the hook is deeply embedded or has been ingested.

Always place unwanted fishing tackle in appropriate trash receptacles. If you miscast and your line becomes entangled in surrounding vegetation, be responsible and retrieve the monofilament debris. Hooks and line left in the environment can be deadly to unsuspecting wildlife.

Gopher Tortoise Car Accident

The gopher tortoise was hit by a vehicle on Marco Island; an Audubon of the Western Everglades volunteer brought the tortoise to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care.

This tortoise is one of seven tortoises hit on Marco Island in the last month.

While this tortoise didn’t die immediately from his injuries, the internal damage was tremendous and required humane euthanasia. All seven tortoises struck by vehicles suffered devastating trauma, their shells were crushed (not just cracked, these tortoises were crushed), internal organs ruptured and exposed and yet, the people who hit them have all driven off. 

It is not a crime if you accidentally hit a tortoise; it is imperative to stop and offer aid. Tortoises are living, breathing creatures that experience pain and suffer just like any other animal; they deserve care, compassion and professional medical attention. Please, please stop and offer assistance. 

If you are a Marco Island resident, raise awareness and educate others, especially seasonal visitors so they can help protect native wildlife while visiting our area.

Tell your Marco friends and neighbors when traveling on Marco Island to watch out for the tortoises. Tortoises are often foraging on the shoulder of roads or crossing busy roads to forage. Maintain the posted speed limit while driving and always look under your car when you leave parking lots and driveways. Many tortoises will seek refuge from the hot sun in the shade provided by parked cars.

If you see a tortoise attempting to cross a road, safely pull over and offer assistance. If the tortoise is uninjured, place it out of danger in the direction it was headed. If the tortoise is injured, please bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical assistance. If you don’t take immediate action, the likelihood that the tortoise crosses the road safely without being struck is very low.

There are situations when it may be too dangerous to stop so human safety must remain the top priority but often it is manageable to pull over and offer assistance, it just takes someone who is willing to help. Without help from the Marco Island community, the tortoise population on Marco Island will continue to see significant losses which is a tragedy for an already threatened species.

Recent Releases

Two osprey, two gray catbirds, two eastern cottontails, a Florida red-bellied turtle, an eastern phoebe, a white ibis, a burrowing owl, a mourning dove, and a Florida box turtle were released this past week.

Support our Work

We are always in need of volunteers. Whether it’s out transporting injured animals, cleaning outdoor enclosures or helping staff handle wildlife, the volunteers help us everyday and we really appreciate the support. Sign up and join our volunteer team here.