Two pelicans found wrapped in fishing line in just one week

November 13, 2020

By Joanna Fitzgerald | Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

A brown pelican was among the 56 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week.

Hospital staff received a call from a member of the public reporting a brown pelican with a broken wing at Lowdermilk Park. The person was unable to offer assistance but was willing to keep an eye on the pelican if we could send help. Wildlife Hospital Critter Courier, Susan Cone, responded and was able to rescue the pelican and transport it to the hospital for care.

Upon arrival to the wildlife hospital, staff removed fishing line that stretched from the pelican’s right wing, across its chest and then was wrapped multiple times around its left wing near the elbow. The left wing was drooping significantly compared to the right wing. The left wing was cold on the distal portion near the wrist — it was obvious the monofilament line that encircled the wing had caused a constriction injury leading to compromised circulation to a portion of the wing.

Staff immediately performed laser therapy at the constriction site. The laser reduces inflammation and increases blood flow to the area being treated. The pelican received pain medication and electrolytes and was placed in a recovery enclosure in the ICU to rest.

The following day staff repeated much of the same treatment plan. The pelican received electrolytes and pain medication, laser therapy and warm compresses on the elbow and wrist where the effects of the loss of circulation were most severe. The pelican received oral fluids and Chinese herbs to address symptoms associated with internal bleeding. Mid-morning the pelican began coughing and a gurgling sound was audible upon inspiration. Throughout the day, the pelican’s condition continued to deteriorate; the pelican could no longer lift its left wing that had become stiff and cold, an indication that the fishing line that encircled the wing caused permanent, irreversible damage. At that point, staff recognized there was nothing more we could do and the pelican was humanely euthanized.

A second pelican was admitted within a week suffering from the same issue only, in this case, the line was wrapped tightly around its left wing. The suffering both these birds endured is heartbreaking especially because fishing line and hook injuries are preventable. Anglers must be responsible and take measures to avoid injuring wildlife. Be aware of your surroundings. If birds are congregating nearby while you are fishing, don’t risk snagging a bird, wait to cast your line until the birds have moved on.

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 monofilament line trailing behind. Reel the bird in carefully but quickly; a bird struggling against a taut line may cause the 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 seemed 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.

Recent Releases

A black-and-white warbler, a gopher tortoise, a red knot, a common gallinule, two red-shouldered hawks, two eastern cottontails, a Florida red-bellied turtle, a marsh rabbit and a Virginia opossum were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at to understand issues affecting rural lands in Eastern Collier County and support our efforts to ensure our wildlife have a great place to call home. Get involved, become a member and help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.