Last week I told the tale of a duck that I saw swimming around in Beech Hill Pond with something — a wood or plastic object — trailing along behind it, likely attached to the bird’s foot by discarded fishing line.
I received a few suggestions about possible remedies that day, when I posted a photo to my own Facebook page, but by the time those replies began coming in, the duck was long gone, having paddled down the shoreline and out of sight.
The event was eye-opening, and I got to wondering. How common an occurrence had I witnessed? And was there something I could have done?
I sent the photo to a pair of bird biologists for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, asking for their thoughts and advice.
The first thing I learned was that Mainers are even more careless than I thought about properly discarding fishing line, and the biologists often have a front-row seat when things go bad.
“Messaging about safely discarding fishing line and tackle is always needed,” said biologist Danielle D’Auria, who works with loons, among other birds. “I find fishing line all the time. It is deadly trash.”
Biologist Brad Allen, the department’s bird group leader, said discarded fishing line is often found near popular fishing spots and boat landings. And the results can be devastating for birds that come into contact with it.
The duck in the photo is a female mallard, Allen said, and should be swimming around with ducklings in tow. The fact that it’s swimming solo is a sign that things aren’t going according to plan.
Allen said a rescue mission could be conducted to help free the duck, and said he and colleague Kelsey Sullivan have embarked on similar missions in the past.
“If it’s used to being fed it may be able to be enticed closely to someone with bait and another with a fishing net,” Allen said. “Untangling the line would be easy once caught. The hard part is capturing a healthy duck.”
Sadly, the less healthy the duck gets, the more catchable it will become.
“If her health declines she will likely become increasingly dependent on handouts for food, thus making it easier to capture,” Allen said. “A duck like this can be trapped as well if it comes to that. Contacting the local warden would not hurt as they like to know what’s going on in their district and he/she may get calls on this critter.”
Allen pointed out that many times, ducks that have been fed by camp owners become predictable, stopping by the same feeding locations at the same time each day. In those cases, capturing the duck and rendering aid also becomes easier.
“I’d like to hear that she is commonly in one spot and generally not too afraid of people [before trying to act],” Allen said. “We’ve chased down a lot of healthy birds that are difficult to catch, and they usually get away.”
Being tethered to fishing line and a foreign object makes it susceptible to a variety of woes. Allen said a bald eagle might decide that the struggling duck would make a good meal. D’Auria said just having the line constricting its leg isn’t good, either.
“The fishing line could cause problems for the leg, if it gets wrapped tightly and cuts off circulation, and if it ends up getting caught or tangled on other parts of its body,” D’Auria said. “If someone local was monitoring the duck, they could watch for signs of distress and then we could try to capture it to help it.”
On Saturday, I was back at camp, and kept an eye out for the duck at the same time of day that we’d seen it a week earlier.
It never swam past.
Reader Alex Cole reached out via Facebook to point out how simple it can be to discard fishing line. The new fly fisherman found a mini-trash receptacle that hooks onto his vest, giving him a convenient spot to stow snarled leaders.
But here’s another thing we can do: The next time you’re at your local fishing hotspot or boat landing, take a look around. Don’t be content because you didn’t add to the litter. Pick up someone else’s discarded worm container or snarled fishing line.
Leave things better than they were.
The ducks might not thank you, but I will.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.