Kayaking For The Birds is a group of volunteers dedicated to reducing bird and other wildlife deaths caused by becoming hooked or entangled in fishing line. Our approach is positive, not negative or confrontational. We focus our efforts on removing the fishing line that accumulates along the shores of lakes and rivers everywhere, every day. We also remove trash to help prevent entanglements and plastic ingestion which is a problem with many aquatic bird species. And we rescue birds on those sad occasions when we did not get to the line quickly enough to prevent their entanglement.
We do not hate fishermen. (That would be hypocritical since Brian was a fisherman for most of his life as were some of our other volunteers.) Fishermen do not choose to snag and lose their line. In fact, they hate when it happens. It is simply an unavoidable part of fishing along a shoreline and as long as fishing is legal it will occur. This is true world-wide, not just in our lake. Fishermen tend to be nice people and most of them that we talk to about our activities are very supportive.
One of the few requirements for joining our volunteer group on our lake is that you must be able to say “good morning” to a fisherman, or anyone on the lake, and mean it. Hopefully other Kayaking For The Birds groups will do the same.
We began when Janet Shelton and Brian Godfrey were walking along the shores of Lake Hodges in San Diego county and spotted a duck hanging from a fishing lure in its mouth. It was out over the water and we were unable to reach it. Using our cell phones we were unable to find anyone who would come and help it. We were finally able to flag down a fishing boat and they tried to help, but the panicking duck broke the line and flew off with the lure in its mouth. It probably died. A few weeks later we found a Great Egret with its left wing entangled in fishing line. The result was similar: the egret managed to pull loose in panic when I started wading out to him, scattering feathers and hopefully not damaging its wing structurally. But that wing looked pretty beat up and the egret may not have survived it.
Realizing that fishing line in the shrubs might be a problem elsewhere around the lake we rented a kayak and paddled off to take a look. We chose a random spot on the shoreline and were amazed to see that it was festooned with fishing line like a Halloween haunted house. We spent 45 minutes removing the line from just about 250′ of shoreline and probably left more than we were able to reach without tools. This was clearly a very high risk to birds who perch and even nest in those shrubs and that was confirmed by employees of the city who work at the lake. Apparently entanglements, hookings, and deaths were pretty common.
We bought a kayak and set out to remove all of the fishing line from the entire shoreline. That’s a big job as there are many miles of shoreline at Lake Hodges. We eventually asked for help on our local neighborhood forum. (Nextdoor.com) A number of people came out to help from the front seat of our tandem kayak and a couple of them joined as registered volunteers. A second posting a year later produced a similar result.
Fortunately the work has proved to be surprisingly enjoyable. It took months to complete our first full scouring of the shoreline, and almost every minute of it was enjoyable, rewarding, or both. People hear that we are pulling fishing line from the bushes and picking up litter (plastic litter can also harm birds) and it sounds awful. But they have no idea. We start and/or end with a long pedal or paddle on our very scenic lake. We are often out there alone when the lake is closed to the general public and we see the birds and other wildlife behaving normally in their natural element. We see critters that usually hide when the lake is open to lots of boats. When we are “picking line” we paddle very slowly along, feet or even inches from the shoreline for one to three hours. I think this is a very Zen experience. The quiet focus on a simple task – finding and removing the line – erases all of the worries and cares from your mind and leaves you feeling fresh and relaxed. You should try it.
Our job is kind of a numbers game. We can reduce the risks to birds and wildlife, but we probably can never completely eliminate them. We spend a lot of time along the lake shore but it is impossible to retrieve every lure or bit of line the moment it is snagged in a shrub. So there are still birds who become entangled. Fortunately we are able to find some of them before they die. I have put together lists of rescue and rehab resources and we are gradually learning to be good rescuers, too. Janet and Brian volunteered for the Wildlife Center in Astoria, OR for a number of years and rescued quite a few pelagic birds from the beach or the surf. But those birds were in pretty bad shape and easy to catch. Catching an otherwise healthy bird who has swallowed a hook or is entangled in line but can still dive is extraordinarily difficult!
We have successfully rescued a few birds. Our first, a grebe with a hook in its foot, was swimming on the surface, but could not move beyond a 10′ radius because the line was anchored to the bottom. We picked it out of the water and ascertained that the hook was not in anything vital. So we removed it and released the very relieved bird to live out its life.
We once found an egret which had been struck by a fast moving power boat. We rushed it in to Project Wildlife in downtown San Diego where it was triaged and transferred to Sea World which operates a very good pelagic/aquatic bird rehab facility. That bird was badly bruised, but recovered and we were able to release it back into Lake Hodges a short time later.
We have rescued other ducks, a coot, and a female Yuma Myotis bat. Sometimes they survive rehab and sometimes they do not. But we always try.