18 September 2011

The hook

Nothing spoils your day more than watching a wild creature dying a cruel and unnecessary death.

Such was the situation I encountered when I stopped at a city park in a small Wisconsin town last weekend.  I sat down on the grass next to a bubbling stream to eat a sandwich, then noticed a fluttering in the air above me.  There, hanging vertically below the branch of a tree above the stream was a cedar waxwing, intermittently fluttering its wings.

At first I thought the bird was trapped in a spiderweb, but a moment's study revealed a nearly-invisible line extending above the bird to the branch.  Apparently some fisherman had gotten a fly tangled in the tree and cut his/her line, leaving the lure (with its feathers) dangling above the water.

I was unable to reach the bird, having nothing longer with me than my trekking poles.  I stopped two passersby, but none of us could bend or climb the tree.  The hook appeared to be embedded in the bird's beak, and the bird would occasionally place a foot on it and try to pull himself up, but seemed unable to get a grip on the small lure.

I was just a half-hour from my house, so I returned home to get the longest tool available (here in the midwest, that item is a roof rake).  My wife came with me on the return trip and brought a wire cutter and a needle-nosed pliers.

By the time we got back, the bird was gone, and only the hook remained.  I hope this means the cedar waxwing was able to leverage himself off of the barb and fly away; we didn't find any evidence of a carcass in the underbrush, though he might have fallen into the water and washed downstream. 

A cautionary tale for anglers.  Perhaps some birders have seen similar situations, but it was a new one for me.


  1. I was a teenager fly fishing in the Big Horn Mountains in WY and a bird swallowed the fly in mid-air. It did not go well for the bird and really put a damper on my fishing trip (yes I know that I was hoping it would be a fish that swallowed the fly)....

  2. Horrible experience. I think we can assume the bird lived!

    The bird wouldn't have just slipped off the hook AFTER it died.

  3. No, it wouldn't have slipped off the hook after death, but it might have been too weak to fly and might have fallen in the creek. Or I suppose a raptor might have spotted it...

  4. Did you manage to get the hook cleared away?

  5. I flyfish, and regret to say that I have left more than a few flies high up in trees (and on underwater snags and in the brush behind me). The only consolation I have is that I routinely squeeze the barb down on the hooks, so that fish (and, I guess, birds) can be released more easily.

  6. This reminds me of a terrible/weird experience I had. I was fishing once and accidentally threw my line over a willow branch extending over the water. As I jerked to free my lure, which I did, I accidentally dumped a baby chick out of the nest and into the water. It managed to stay afloat, and was sort of bird paddling (dog paddling?) in place. I quickly shed my shoes to go and save the chick, when suddenly "Sploosh!!", a big fish ate it.

    I spent the rest of the evening trying to catch that fish because...well, it was HUGE!

  7. As a ranger in Yellowstone, I can tell you that more that once I encountered floating dead ducks wrapped in discarded fishing line.

  8. Skipweasel, it came off with one swipe of the roof rake.


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