Saturday, October 2, 2021

Loon Center Rescues Two Tangled Loons

loonThe Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation (ACLC) is very pleased to announce it helped save two juvenile loons after they were severely tangled in fishing gear. 

The first loon was found Sept. 14 on Trout Lake with a large treble-hook lure that had become ensnared in both its feet. Local residents, Lynne Butterworth and John Rendinaro, reported the loon to Dr. Nina Schoch, Executive Director of the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, who provided guidance in how to catch the loon. Ellie George, one of the ACLC’s field staff, and her husband, Cal, removed the hooks and lure from the loon’s feet, and then brought the injured bird to Dr. Schoch, who cleaned its wounds, treated it with antibiotics and fluids, and banded it to aid in subsequent observations.

The second loon was one that the ACLC had previously banded in August on Lake Colby. Mark Epstein reported the loon to Dr. Schoch with photos showing that the loon had a lure wedged in its mouth, with fishing line tightly wrapped around its lower beak and neck. The ACLC staff successfully captured the loon Friday evening with the assistance of Mark and local residents Debbie and Dr. Roger Neill. Sadly, it was found that the loon’s injuries were more severe than the photos had indicated, as it had an older wound around the fish hook that was deeply embedded in the side of its neck, two lures caught in its mouth, and fishing line wrapped many times around its tongue, causing deep wounds. After several minutes, Dr. Schoch was able to successfully remove all the line and the hook. She then cleaned its wounds and treated it with antibiotics and fluids prior to its release. 

“We are very pleased to know that both loons have been observed acting normally since their release, diving, feeding, and swimming,” said Dr. Schoch. “It is extremely rewarding to have saved these two young birds from certain death.” As a wildlife rehabilitator, Dr. Schoch has also rescued many other birds that were tangled in line and lures, including a barred owl and an immature mallard duck within the past two weeks.                 

Fishing line and tackle entanglement is one of the most common causes of a loon needing rescue, and it is easily preventable. Anglers can help protect loons and other wildlife by recycling abandoned line and by participating in the Loon Center’s Lead Tackle Buy-Back Program. If an angler accidentally hooks a loon, they should try to reel it in and remove the hook, or at least cut any line as short as possible. They should also notify the Loon Center so that the injured loon can be monitored and caught if it needs treatment. 

Over the next few years, the Loon Center will be establishing a loon rescue and rehabilitation facility at SUNY ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, NY. This facility will enable the Loon Center to better diagnose and treat the growing number of injured and debilitated loons it rescues each year. To help support the creation of this facility, contact Dr. Schoch at or (518) 354-8636.

Photo taken by Mark Epstein, provided by Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation

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Dr. Nina Schoch is a wildlife veterinarian with Biodiversity Research Institute of Gorham, Maine, and coordinates BRI's Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation. She has a veterinary degree from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, a master’s degree in Natural Resources/Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology-Behavioral Ecology from Cornell University.Dr. Schoch practiced small animal medicine in New York’s Adirondack Park from 1991-2002, is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and enjoys wildlife photography, paddling, cross-country skiing, quilting, and knitting.

5 Responses

  1. Barbara Franklin says:

    Nina is a gift to the Adirondacks and her group must be supported. Fishermen need to be educated as to the harm their recklessness results in.

  2. Boreas says:

    Yes – if a bird is caught try to remove the hooks and any line if possible. It often isn’t that difficult.

    When surf fishing, young gulls often chase surface lures and try to pick them up. Usually, they drop them and move on. Sometimes they don’t. Gulls can also get tangled in the line after casting. They are pretty easy to deal with once you get used to it. Unfortunately many anglers just cut the line and the gull escapes and is left to fend for itself – typically dying SLOWLY if it can’t fly or feed properly. Or until a predator gets it – which can then ALSO become entangled!

    When I see this, or if it happens to me, I basically reel the gull in carefully, but quickly. The longer they fight the line, the more stressed they become and less likely to survive. Birds build up lactic acid quickly when under stress, and they often do not recover from this.

    Once I get the bird in close, I cover it with a towel or my shirt. It still struggles, but there is less chance of being bitten because it cannot see me. Basically, I keep the bird subdued with the cover, and assess the situation. Usually, the line gets wrapped around a wing or the lure embeds somewhere. Keeping it covered, I just start cutting everything away so that it can be quickly untangled and removed. After everything is untangled, I remove the lure if needed. If it is near the mouth, you usually need to hold the neck and head as far up up as possible to immobilize it, or the barb will likely sink deeper (This is why I knock the barbs down on any lure I use. It could well be me that the hook is embedded in!!). The reason you don’t remove it first is that if it is still attached to line, it is very likely to embed in a new location as soon as you remove it. If I can’t remove the barb without significant damage to the bird, I cut the hook with my pliers as close to the wound as possible. Once I am sure the bird is clean, I release it.

    Since this is out on an ocean beach and often away from phones and help, trying to contact a rehabber is usually not an option unless the bird is in bad shape. If they fly away, as they usually do, I figure they just got a good education. If they don’t make it, at least I gave them a chance. I posted this because removing a lure or line from a bird is not impossible – especially if it just happened. But at least TRY to capture the bird if you can do so without stressing it a great deal more. The shirt trick works very well.

    This may not be the best way to interact with a tangled bird, but if they are in good shape, it will likely increase their survivability more than just turning away and hoping for the best. If they are weak and do not struggle much, they should be captured and hopefully rushed to a rehabber. Always a good idea to have their number on your phone if you spend much time in the outdoors!

    • Thank you very much for your great description of how to remove a hook & line from a bird – very helpful!

      Yes – covering the bird’s eyes is a great way to keep it calm while working on it, as is pinning the wings between your legs when you are kneeling over the bird to work on it.

      And if the bird is acting bright, alert, and energetic, it can definitely be released right away. If it’s been tangled a while with deep, infected wounds, that’s when care by a rehabilitator will help it heal.

  3. Ruth Gais says:

    Thanks and blessings to all who helped these wonderful birds.

  4. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Very nice to read this and to know that some people really do care about our wildlife! Thank you very much!

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