Shorebirds encounter red tide and fishing related injuries

December 15, 2022

A great blue heron and four sanderlings were among the sixty-five animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a wood stork, a prairie warbler, a sharp-shined hawk, a great egret, two marsh rabbits and a gopher tortoise.

Great Blue Heron Tangled in Fishing Line

A staff member at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital received a call from a homeowner off Bayshore Drive reporting a great blue heron entangled in fishing line that was snared in the trees surrounding the canal. The heron was hanging by its right wing while its legs dangled in the water.

The heron was futilely struggling and flapping its left wing trying to free itself. The homeowner called the wildlife hospital after she tried to break the fishing line with a weighted rope, but was unsuccessful because the bird was too far from shore to reach.

Hospital staff gathered rescue gear and headed to the scene after calling wildlife hospital volunteer Lauren Malinowski to assist. Lauren works at the Naples Pier and has extensive experience rescuing birds entangled in fishing line.

The rescue team planned to secure a pole saw to an extension net to cut the fishing line. Lauren decided a safer plan was to wade out to the bird to ensure the heron wouldn’t evade capture once the line was cut. Lauren securely held the heron while she pulled the fishing line from the tree; everyone was relieved to have Lauren and the heron safely on shore.

Lauren Malinowski rescuing a blue heron stuck in fishing line from a canal.

Upon arrival at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, staff immediately removed the monofilament line from the heron’s wing. The heron received pain medications and received low energy laser therapy to reduce pain and swelling. Staff placed the heron in a large recovery enclosure in the ICU to rest.

Staff monitored the heron throughout the rest of the evening, no wing droop was noticed and the heron appeared calm and comfortable. The next day the heron looked stronger; staff moved the heron from the ICU to a larger recovery space. Daily laser treatments were continued as well supplemental feeding, fluid therapy and a course of antibiotics. The heron continues to recover in the bird room.

Please, if you participate in angling activities, always place fishing tackle in appropriate trash receptacles. If you miscast and your line or net becomes entangled in surrounding rocks, trees or vegetation, be responsible and retrieve the monofilament debris. As this situation illustrates, hooks and line can severely injure unsuspecting wildlife if left in the environment.

Sanderlings Suffer from Red Tide

The four sanderlings along with four ruddy turnstones were admitted suffering from toxicosis associated with red tide.

All eight of these birds were severely debilitated when found on local beaches. The birds were unable to stand or blink due to the effects of the neurotoxins. 

Treatment protocol for toxicosis patients includes providing supplemental oxygen, electrolytes, Chinese herbs, supplements to support liver function and eye medications four times a day until the ability to blink returns. These birds showed signs of respiratory distress when handled so staff needed to be efficient and precise while handling and providing these birds their treatment. 

The sanderlings were admitted from different beach locations in Collier County; all were suffering from toxicosis associated with red tide.

Red tide has devastating effects on our native shore birds.

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital does not have an official rescue service so we rely heavily on help from the public. Rescuing a debilitated bird is straightforward. Carry a towel and keep a ventilated box or pet crate in your car when you head to the beach, that way you are prepared to offer assistance if you encounter a shorebird in distress.

Be safe, always wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from any bird with a long neck and sharp beak. Use a towel to lightly cover the bird’s head and body. If the bird’s head is covered, it can’t see what is going on and the darkness will help calm the bird. Gently pick up the bird and place it in the box. In many cases, rescuers get creative and use what they have. For example, one of the sanderlings was brought in a sand bucket.

Sanderling arrives in a sand bucket

Remember, the bird is either injured or weak; that gives you, the rescuer, the advantage during a rescue. 

If you have questions about how to safely rescue and contain an animal, please call the wildlife hospital. We can offer tips that will keep you safe while ensuring you can offer life-saving assistance to an animal in need.

Recent Releases

Three eastern cottontails, a Florida box turtle, three red-shouldered hawks, a blue jay, a northern cardinal, a Cooper’s hawk and a grey squirrel were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website to learn about the work done by staff and volunteers at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Some of you may be planning end-of-year contributions to your favorite organizations – please consider donating to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy. The work we do to care for injured, sick and orphaned wildlife is not possible without support from our community. Donations are vital and help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

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