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Hooked a Bird?

Don't Cut the Line! Reel. Remove. Release.

Free the Bird...But Don't Cut the Line!

Watch how to safely handle and unhook a bird. This 1-minute video demonstrates the instructions outlined below.

Steps to Rescue a Hooked Bird

Don't Cut the Line! logo
  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.
When handling a pelican, keep the beak slightly open so the bird can breathe.

Photo credit: 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.

Use scissors, clippers or a knife to gently cut fishing line and remove hooks.

Photo Credit: Jeanette Edwards

9.   Carefully check the bird over for other hooks or line and remove them too.

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. 

For more information, download our Pelican Rescue Brochure.

For tips on how to avoid hooking seabirds, visit protect Florida's seabirds. And to avoid seabird entanglement, remember to Stash the Trash!

Seabird Rehabilitators and Transporters app

If a bird has swallowed a fishing hook or is severely injured, use our app to find the nearest seabird rehabilitator to care for the bird and/or transporter to take the bird to a rehabilitator. Please stay with the bird until help arrives.