Hooked terns and an ibis flock suffers from toxicosis

August 4, 2022

The Von Arx Wildlife Hospital is located and part of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Open 365 days a year from 8am to 8pm. Call 239-262-2273 for wildlife assistance.

A royal tern and three white ibises were among the 97 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a hispid cotton rat, three barred owls, a least bittern, eight Virginia opossums, a banded watersnake and a red rat snake.

Master Bander, Adam Dinuovo, and Col Lauzau, Avian Biologist with Rookery Bay, were checking a black skimmer colony near Sand Dollar Island on Marco Island. Jean Hall, volunteer with Audubon of the Western Everglades, Audubon Florida and National Audubon, was with them to provide photos for their project.

As Jean took photos of a flock of royal terns near the skimmer colony, she noticed one tern looked sick and was not flying. She enlarged the image on her camera and saw the royal tern was entangled in braided fishing line; a dead sandwich tern was entangled in the same line and was being dragged along by the royal tern.

A deceased sandwich tern attached to a royal tern by fishing line. Photo Credit: Jean Hall

Adam and Col removed the fish hook and most of the line; a section of the braided fishing line was wrapped too tightly around the royal tern’s tongue for them to feel comfortable removing so Jean transported the tern to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for care.

Photo Credit: Jean Hall
Photo Credit: Jean Hall
Photo Credit: Jean Hall

A physical exam revealed the tern had increased respiratory effort, was underweight, sustained abrasions from the braided line and was favoring its right leg. Hospital staff removed the line from the tern’s tongue, administered pain medication and allowed the tern time to rest. An antibiotic, anti-fungal, Chinese herbs and supplemental vitamins were added to the tern’s treatment plan.

The following day the tern was offered, and ate, a fish diet. After six days of receiving supportive care in the bird room at the wildlife hospital, the tern was cleared to be moved to an outdoor flight recovery enclosure for further recovery time.

Another Tern Found Tangled in Fishing Line

Two days after the royal tern was admitted, Jean found a sandwich tern also entangled in braided fishing line in the same area of Marco Island. The tern tried to escape as Jean approached, but the line was entangled in seaweed causing the tern to fall into the ocean. Jean waded out, retrieved the tern and brought the tern to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. 

Braided fishing line is advertised as having superior strength making it difficult to break; it is likely the royal tern and sandwich tern were hooked when an angler cast his/her line and the line was then cut allowing the hooked terns to fly off with line trailing behind.

Responsible Fishing Tips

Please, if you hook a bird while fishing, don’t cut the line and allow the bird to fly or swim off with several feet of fishing line trailing behind – that is a death sentence for the bird. Reel the bird in carefully but quickly; a bird struggling against a taut line may cause monofilament line to snap allowing the bird to fly or swim off hooked with the line trailing behind.

Once the bird is reeled in, cover its head with a towel to help calm the bird and assess the damage. If the hook is not deeply embedded, gently push the hook through until the barb is exposed. Clip the barb and back the hook out. After the hook is removed, step away and allow the bird time to gain its bearings. The bird should fly off once it has had a bit of time to rest.

If it is unable to fly away, the damage could be more severe then it first appeared and the bird should be brought to the wildlife hospital for care.

If the hook is deeply embedded, or, if the hook has been ingested, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention. Please, practice responsible and ethical angling. If you are an angler, educate novices about responsible fishing practices and hold others accountable if you see them fishing irresponsibly. If you are fishing and a flock of birds is nearby, allow the birds time to move off before casting or move to a location free of birds; the senseless suffering and loss of life incurred due to irresponsible fishing practices is preventable.

White Ibis Flock Dies from Toxicosis

A woman brought an ibis to the wildlife hospital. The ibis was in respiratory distress upon arrival and did not survive.

While explaining the situation, the woman mentioned approximately 20 ibis were deceased on her property, the one ibis she brought in was the only one she saw that was still alive.

Hospital staff referred her to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) so they could respond and collect the deceased birds. While the FWC officer was on site, he found three ibises that were severely debilitate yet still alive. Wildlife Hospital volunteer, Michael Simonik, was able to assist with transporting the ibises to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

The ibises showed symptoms of toxicosis including an inability to stand and no blink response; the treatment plans were tailored to each ibises’ individual needs according to their level of illness. Hospital staff administered Chinese herbs, antibiotics, vitamin supplements, fluids and placed the ibises on supplemental oxygen in animal intensive care units. Diagnostic tests revealed the ibises had internal parasites that required anti-parasitic medication.

Each day the ibises showed slight improvements and gained strength. After five days of care two ibises were moved to an outdoor recovery enclosure while one ibis needed further wound care requiring more rehab time in the hospital.

Please, if you see an injured, sick or orphaned animal, offer assistance. If you are unsure of how to help, call the wildlife hospital for guidance. 

Recent Releases

A mourning dove, two Florida softshell turtles, a marsh rabbit, two eastern cottontails, four northern mockingbirds, a royal tern, a brown thrasher, a common grackle and two mottled ducks were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website and learn about opportunities to get involved. If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. No matter how you choose to become involved, be assured your support allows the Conservancy to continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. 

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