Bird rescue a cautionary tale for anglers and gardeners

To Tiny Marsh yesterday with my friend Jennifer to monitor breeding birds by playing a recording of a few key species at four locations. Got there at 6:30, we worked till 8:30ish, getting a few interesting call-backs. Then we walked out on the dyke because Jennifer wanted to see if loons are still in the Marsh. On the way I noticed a black bird flapping in the reeds and at the same time Jennifer was pulled up short by something around her ankles. It was a really strong green fishing line. We followed it back and found a juvenile grackle desperately trying to escape.


We untangled most of it but the end of the line was really tightly wrapped and knotted around one leg. And we had nothing to cut with. So we took bird and line over to my friend Anne’s, whose farm is adjacent to the Marsh – dribbling a little water into a thirsty beak a couple of times on the way.

Anne cut the line but we still had a problem – the knot. We transferred the bird to a tea towel (it was hot from my very sweaty hands, this was a really hot and humid day) and it escaped, crapping on the kitchen floor. We caught it at the window, clawing at the screen. At least it could fly just fine. But we couldn’t get at the knot with any cutting implements, it was so tight around the leg. 

Finally Anne took a needle and picked at the knot. It took a while, looked as if she had it at one stage, but no, another knot underneath. The bird kept still. I was worried it would go into shock, birds will do that and die, just from fright. But the grackle is a pretty sturdy species and this was a bright-eyed and alert specimen.

Finally the leg was free. Back to the car, bird struggling every now and then, and back to the Marsh, back to the spot where we’d found it because we figured it was still young enough to need its parents to feed it. Like many fledged birds that have just left the nest, this grackle was just about adult-sized – but it takes a week or so for them to be fully independent, and you can see them at the bird feeder these days, flapping their wings and opening their beaks in a bid to attract the attention and care of a parent. 

We unfolded the tea towel and it sprang out, winging and squawking away, to a happy ending, we hope. Here's Jennifer's blog of the same incident with pix of me and bird.

Moral of the story: don’t inadvertently leave traps for wildlife. It’s not just anglers who are careless. We gardeners have to be thoughtful too. I found a dead garter snake once, it had been caught in some strawberry netting I had taken off the berry beds and left out. And another year, I found a dead goldfinch right in the middle of some rolled up chicken wire. It had worked its way in but couldn’t back out. In both cases, I should have put the material away in the shed. Now, I make sure I do.  

After the bird rescue, I and two members of the MTM board went on a drive along the dyke. We’re working on a plan to address the invasive species in the Marsh. These are aggressive plants that take over and exclude native vegetation – so it’s very important to head them off at the start. On Tuesday, the Ontario government released a plan to address the problem province-wide; I hope they devote resources to get the work done on the ground because the time to do it is now, while we still have natural spaces where native species predominate. The potential outcome is very frightening – the eradication of our native plant and animal wildlife as a functioning, renewable ecosystem – and at the moment public awareness is almost zero.

At the Marsh, the main plant species of concern are Garlic Mustard, Glossy Buckthorn and Phragmites. There's a rumour of Dog-Strangling Vine which we need to investigate and tackle immediately if it's there, it is one scary invader. We mapped 16 patches of Phragmites along the main dyke. There's more to be discovered along another dyke. These will all have to be mowed and sprayed annually, and in time if we persist we will get rid of them. 

The good news is how much lovely native vegetation there is in the Marsh. Along the dyke, Pickerel Weed, with its beautiful blue spike of a flower, Rose (Swamp) Milkweed, also in flower, a brilliant pink, Joe Pye Weed, Burreed, Virginia Rose – huge bushes in flower by the water at the north end. In the ditch along the road there, I found Tall Meadow Rue. Over by the lookout, Marsh Cinquefoil.

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