Hooked a Bird

DON’T CUT THE LINE! Reel. Remove. Release.

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Follow these steps to rescue a hooked bird: Reel in the bird. Remove the hook. Release the bird.

Watch the video demonstrating how to safely handle and unhook a bird.

  1. Enlist others for assistance if possible.
  2. REEL the bird in slowly and evenly.  Don’t try to shake the bird loose by jerking the line – it will inflict additional injury to the bird.
  3. If fishing from a pier, make sure that the bird remains on the water until a net, such as a hoop net, can be used to lift it onto the pier. Birds reeled up onto piers can be seriously injured, or can potentially damage fishing equipment.
  4. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Take extra care to protect yourself when handling long-billed wading birds and hooked-billed cormorants.
    Securely Holding A Bird

    When handling a pelican, keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe.
    Photo courtesy of George Veazey

  5. Firmly grasp the bird’s head behind the eyes.  Then fold the wings up gently but firmly against the bird’s body so that it can’t flap its wings, and hold the legs. Hold firmly but don’t strangle the bird.  If it is a pelican, you can hold the beak but keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe. 
  6. Cover the bird’s head with a towel, hat, shirt, or other cloth. This will calm the bird and make it easier for you to remove the line and/or hook.
  7. REMOVE the hook by cutting the barb and backing the hook out.  If the barb is imbedded in the bird’s flesh, push the hook through until the barb emerges from the skin and then clip the barb.
  8. If the bird is entangled in line, use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut the line.  Place the cut line in a monofilament recycling bin, or cut the line into small (<3- inch pieces) and place in a lidded trashcan.
  9. Carefully check the bird over for other hooks or line and remove them too.

    Use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut fishing line and remove hooks.
    Photo courtesy of Jeanette Edwards

  10. If the bird is feisty, it is likely healthy enough to RELEASE.  Point its head towards the water and step back while you release the bird.  Let the bird take off on its own.  Sometimes birds shake their feathers out, assess the situation, and then are ready to fly.  Other times, they just take off.  Either way, this represents a successful release. 

If the bird has swallowed the hook, or is severely injured, take it to a local rehabilitator.  You can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 for a list of rehabilitators Adobe PDF near you.  

Download our Pelican Rescue Brochure Adobe PDF

For tips on how to avoid hooking seabirds, visit protect Florida's seabirds.

FWC Facts:
The Junior Hunter Safety Program offers a series of 3 free courses for grades K-5, providing information on firearm safety, outdoor ethics and conservation.

Learn More at AskFWC