If you fish often, especially from Florida docks or piers, you’ll eventually catch a bird with your hook and have to remove it. If you’re lucky, there is some older dude on the pier who is an expert in these bird-hook matters and he’ll be glad to help. If you’re not lucky and you can’t do it yourself, you’ll be calling in some help from experts who deal with bird hooking all the time.
What Not To Do with a Hooked Bird?
The worst thing you could do if a bird is caught in your fishing hook is to cut the line and let it fly away. The line can get entangled somewhere and cause the bird to get stuck and not able to eat or drink. Effectively a death sentence. Even worse, some kids could grab the line and fly it around like a bird kite. You don’t want that now, do you?!
You hooked it, now take care of the poor bird!
What To Do When You Hook a Bird?
‘Reel, remove, release’ is what the Florida Saltwater Rules and Regulations say. It may be that easy if the bird is small and not fighting much, but most birds that grab your bait are on the bigger side, heavy and strong.
This is why it’s REALLY IMPORTANT not to hook birds. The damage a hook can do to the bird can be severe especially when they are fighting against you reeling it in.
Before you do anything. If this is a seagull or some other harmless bird, then you can do this. If the bird is an eagle, hawk, or other bird of prey, don’t try to do anything yourself. These birds can be dangerous with sharp beaks and claws. Leave the bird out on the line and use the rescue service at the bottom fo the page to call someone to transport the bird to one of the rehabilitation experts.
STEP #1 – Get Control of the Bird
If the bird is small and flying, you may be able to reel it in close to you where it will land. If you’re alone, anchor your rod under something so it will stay still. If more than one person, ask someone to grab the rod.
Walk over to the bird and put a towel over it. If you don’t have one, take off your shirt. Women, find a guy who can take off his shirt? I guess.
A cloth over the bird will calm it down quite a bit in most cases.
My own technique, if I can do it and the beach isn’t too far away, is to walk to the beach and get the bird over water if possible before reeling in. When it stops fighting and falls in, it floats there. You can gently reel it in then and when it does fight, it’s fighting against the line and the water and it tires quicker and it’s less stress where the hook is embedded.
It’s less stressful than reeling in a flailing bird in from the air where the hook may embed deeper or the critter could fall on the hard dock and hurt itself again.
Big Birds like Pelicans or Large Seagulls
With bigger birds like pelicans, seagulls, herons, egrets, you’ll have to be more careful of course. Do you have goggles? Snorkel mask? Protect your eyes. A pelican’s beak is kind of dangerous.
The good thing is, it’s probably hooked in the mouth and when it fights against the line, its head is facing the rod. If one person is holding the rod steady and you’re coming up behind the pelican with a cloth, it will be easier to get ahold of the beak and put the cloth over the head.
If you’re on a pier and the heavy bird is in the water, use a big hoop net to scoop up the bird and lift it up. It will be easy to quickly get control of the bird’s head then and drop the cloth over it.
STEP #2 – Remove the Hook or Call a Vet or Rescue Hotline
Assess the situation. Where is the hook embedded? Is it a treble hook? They can be difficult to remove and you may need to call a vet or bird rescue center. See the contact info at the bottom of this page.
If the hook is in the throat, an eye, or some other sensitive region it’s probably best to keep the bird calm and have a vet remove the hook(s).
If the hook is visible and in an accessible area, go ahead and carefully remove it. It’s probably best to use a pair of needle-nose pliers to grab the hook and finesse it out. If there is a barb on the hook, squeeze it against the hook shaft first then slide the hook out.
If the hook has gone completely through, cut off the hook part with wire cutters and back the hook out that way.
If you have wire cutters, it might make sense to cut the looped end off the hook where the line goes through and push the hook out that way. This could be easier on the bird than the other way. Your call!
Here is the process as outlined by the Florida Wildlife Commission:
“Grasp the bird by the head just behind the eyes and fold the wings against the body. For pelicans, hold the beak, keeping the mouth slightly open so it can breathe. Cover the bird’s head with a cloth to keep it calm.”
Oh, and remember, when a pelican releases its bowels, it’s a considerable amount. Keep out of the way!
Here’s a photo showing how to hold the pelican correctly to keep it and you safe.
STEP #3 – Let the Bird Go!
If the hook is removed and the bird seems healthy enough, remove any fishing line that may be around the feet or anywhere else and let the bird go.
Removing Hooks in Pelicans (52-Second Video)
For Serious Complications of Hooked Birds
If you cannot do the hook removal yourself safely, you can use this website: (https://ocean.floridamarine.org/SeabirdRehabilitators/)
You can click the map or enter a city to find a transporter to come and get the bird to take it to the rehabilitation specialist to remove the hook.
Bird Rescue Help Phone Number
If you don’t have internet, you can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at this phone number: +1 888-404-3922. They have a list of bird rescue specialists they call rehabilitators who can help.
[Featured image at top is a screen grab from the video above. Credit to Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission.]