This handsome bird is a male Ring-necked Duck, but not a happy one. I spotted him splashing in a small lake where a tangle of thin tree branches hung low over the water. A duck having a bath, I thought. Then, as he took a break from splashing and his head drooped so low that his bill went under the surface of the water, Maybe not.
His right foot was caught in a snarl of fishing line and attached to one of the submerged tree branches. The foot was bloody and, from what I could see, the leg broken, probably as a result of his attempts to free himself. There was absolutely no way he could have escaped the fishing line on his own: it was wrapped many times around his foot, the branch, and other branches. It probably caught his foot loosely at first, while he was diving for food; then, as he tugged at it, pulled tighter and tighter, until he was trussed to that branch and pulling against his own flesh when he struggled. Fishing line is made not to snap.
I waded, then swam out to him (in t-shirt, jeans, socks, and sneakers: I hadn’t known to dress for swimming when I left the house), broke the branch he was attached to, and pulled up as much of the spare fishing line as I could get. He splashed when I approached, but quieted as soon as I touched him. I’d like to think that he knew I was there to help, but there is no chance that a wild duck saw me as anything but a large predator: his quieting when I touched him was exhaustion, terror, or resignation. I kept a length of the branch to which he was tied with him. I didn’t want to chance making his injuries worse by trying to undo the line myself.
I don’t know how long he was trapped out there, struggling and pulling on his injured leg: long enough to make a wild duck submit passively to being wrapped up and carried to a car, then driven to a wildlife hospital. Long enough to make a wild bird stop fighting.
He is in the capable hands of the wildlife hospital now. There is a real chance that he won’t survive his injuries, but they will do what they can.
So: that fishing line that you see tangled around tree branches and dock pylons? Cut it and pull it up, if you can. Even if it’s muddy and dirty and gross. Even if it isn’t your fishing line. Even if it shouldn’t be your job, shouldn’t be up to you. (And watch out for fish hooks!) Fishing line is hard to see and impossible to break. It’s thin and elastic; the more you pull, the tighter it bites. Fishing line doesn’t care what it tangles, and it doesn’t give its victims a quick or a clean death.
Clean up fishing line. Save a wild life.