Local angler tries to rescue pelican tangled in fishing line

June 25, 2021

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A brown pelican and an anhinga were among the 141 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include an eastern bluebird, a chimney swift, a tufted titmouse, two great crested flycatchers, an eastern mole and a black racer.

The brown pelican was brought to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital from the Naples Pier by a local angler. The pelican was foraging, catching small bait fish, when it became entangled in monofilament line attached to a fishing rod being used by a tourist. The tourist panicked and pulled on the line suspending the pelican from the pier by its neck. The local angler couldn’t get to the hoop net or the pelican quickly enough to stop the tourist from continuing to suspend the pelican by his line above the water. When the pelican was finally brought up onto the pier, the local angler knew there was significant damage and got the pelican to the Conservancy as quickly as he could. His efforts proved futile; the pelican was dead on arrival.

Pelican at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

Not only was the staff at the wildlife hospital incredibly saddened by the senseless loss of life, the local angler was too. If you are an angler, utilize responsible fishing practices. Many injuries, if not all injuries to wildlife could be avoided completely if anglers didn’t cast their lines when birds are flying and foraging around the Naples Pier. Take a break from fishing while the birds are diving, flying and foraging for fish that they need to survive.

If fishing from the Naples Pier and you accidentally hook a bird, enlist the help of other anglers so you can handle the situation properly and mitigate the injury to the bird. Do not cut the line. Keep the bird on the water as you quickly reel the bird in close to the pier. A bird struggling against a taut line may cause the line to break and allow the bird to fly off entangled and hooked.

Use the hoop net to lift the bird onto the pier. Never suspend the bird by its neck, wings or body; birds reeled up onto a pier by fishing line can be seriously injured, or, as was the case with this pelican, can be strangled to death.

Once the bird has been lifted onto the pier in the net, cover its head with a towel or t-shirt to help calm the bird. If the hook is not deeply embedded, gently push the hook through until the barb is exposed. Clip off the barb and back the hook out. Step away and allow the bird time to gain its bearings and fly off.

If the hook is deeply embedded, if the bird has ingested a fish hook or the bird is unable to fly off, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention.

A motorist called to inform hospital staff that there was an anhinga with a plastic bag stuck on its beak near a canal at a busy intersection on Airport Road. The motorist couldn’t stop to help and mentioned the bird was still quite active and swimming in the canal.

Von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff admit an anhinga with a disinfectant wipe entangled in the serrated edges of its beak.
Von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff admit an anhinga with a disinfectant wipe entangled in the serrated edges of its beak.

The following day Wildlife Hospital Volunteer, Tim Thompson, became aware of the situation with the anhinga and went to check out the situation. Tim saw the anhinga standing on the edge of the canal; using binoculars he could see what looked like a portion of a plastic bag wrapped several times around the anhinga’s beak.

Tim knew the bird would escape into the canal if approached with a net. Tim is a skilled angler and was able to use his fishing rod and cast his line so he carefully snagged the anhinga with a small fish hook. With rescue equipment ready, Tim quickly contained the anhinga and brought it to the wildlife hospital for help. The hook was not deeply embedded and was easily removed once the barb was cut off. Staff then worked to remove what turned out to be a disinfectant wipe, not a plastic bag, from the anhinga’s beak. A physical exam was performed; the anhinga was strong and in good body condition.

Staff set the anhinga up in a large recovery enclosure in the bird room. The following day the anhinga was flying and proved ready for release. The anhinga was released at a safe location, away from the busy road, in the vicinity where it had been rescued.

Please, dispose of trash in appropriate receptacles. All items of manmade trash can prove harmful, and often times fatal, to unsuspecting wildlife. Pick up trash and leave an area better than you found it. The simple action of picking up litter can save an animal’s life.


Three brown pelicans, a gopher tortoise, eight double-crested cormorants, a Florida softshell turtle, an eastern screech owl, a red-bellied woodpecker, five northern mockingbirds, two royal terns, an eastern cottontail, a Florida red-bellied turtle, a northern cardinal, a swallow-tailed kite, a mourning dove and an eastern bluebird were released this past week.


We are excited to share that the Conservancy’s von Arx Wildlife Hospital was selected as a finalist in the Animal Welfare category for the Land Rover Defender Above & Beyond Service Awards! Nominated by Land Rover Naples, we submitted a video entry sharing the work of our von Arx Wildlife Hospital team. If chosen as the winner, we would be awarded a Land Rover Defender to support our work rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing injured, sick and orphaned native wildlife! The winner will be chosen by the public through voting – you can vote once each day from now until June 28.

To view our video submission and cast your vote, follow this link! https://www.landroverusa.com/experiences/events-and-sponsorships/defender-service-awards/vote/animal-welfare.html. We would be so grateful for your support!!