By Connie Leinbach
Fall begins another fishing season, and that means beach-goers may see birds entangled in fishing line.
Cheryl and Ron Mangus of Green, Ohio, learned this on Sept. 15 when they were on the beach and noticed a pelican thrashing in the surf.
As the bird tried to go back into the water, she noticed the fishing line entangling it.
“I said, ‘Hey. We gotta help this guy,’” she said about the encounter. “It was starting to drown.”
Another beach-goer, part-time islander Sarah Searight joined the couple and all got the bird out of the water.
“Sarah grabbed ahold of its beak,” Cheryl said, and the group began cutting fishing line. “That pelican knew we were going to help it. It was tired.”
Cheryl said the group was dismayed when an unidentified Park Service employee arrived and told them not to do anything for the bird and to just leave it alone.
Park spokesperson Cyndy Holda said that currently the majority of park staff would offer the solution of calling either a local wildlife rehabilitator or local vet for assistance.
“The vast majority of park employees would go the next step in offering a solution,” Holda said.
Ed Fuller, Ocracoke’s chief ranger, said in an interview afterwards that there’s no policy banning people from helping birds, and that beach-goers are free to call either his office at 252-928-5111, or Ocracoke’s wildlife rehabilitator Elizabeth Hanrahan at 252-928-2604.
“We call Elizabeth if there’s an injured bird,” he said.
That’s because of the danger of interacting with wildlife who might take swipes at good Samaritans.
“It’s fine if people want to help,” Hanrahan said, “but some of those birds are vicious.”
Both pelicans and cormorants have hooked beaks and she suggested that people helping birds first throw a towel over their head so that they can’t see you.
“A cormorant will go for your eyes,” she said.
Peter Vankevich, an island birder, also noted that injured loons do not take kindly to human help and should not be approached.
“They are very dangerous,” he said and should not be approached except by a professional.
“The great blue heron’s bill is like a knife,” Holda added. To walk up to a wild animal that is injured is dicey, she said.
Hanrahan said she gets calls about birds caught in fishing line at least once a week.
“People need to be careful of their fishing line and take it back out of the water,” Hanrahan noted.
Fishing line can be recycled at Tradewinds and at two deposit pipes at the NPS public dock areas.
Injured or dead sea turtles on CHNS beaches are strictly the Park Service’s bailiwick, and because they are threatened or endangered, the park service should be notified as soon as possible.