Vet's warning over 'death trap' after bird loses two toes

WARNING – DISTRESSING CONTENT: A Gold Coast vet has issued a plea to anglers to be more responsible with their rubbish after a bird became entangled in loose fishing line and lost two toes.

A rescuer brought an injured magpie to see Gold Coast Vet Surgery’s Dr Kevin Cruickshank last month.

The bird appears to be have become wrapped up in fishing line disposed of by an angler.

A magpie lies on a towel while in surgery at a Queensland veterinary clinic. Its toe has been removed.
A magpie with its toe amputated after becoming wrapped in fishing line. Source: Gold Coast Vet Surgery

Dr Cruickshank believes “a very simple measure” could save other Australian wildlife from a similar fate.

“I’d really urge people to be responsible and think twice about what happens with their discarded material,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

While he believes most fishermen do the right thing, some just cut entangled line free or dump it on the beach.

“It’s very frustrating and sad to see,” he said.

Loose line can become a “death trap” for marine mammals and birds, so Dr Cruikshank is urging fishermen to take it home or cut it up into small pieces and place it in a bin.

A magpie wrapped in a towel stares at the camera in a Gold Coast veterinary surgery.
The magpie recovers after surgery on its feet. Source: Gold Coast Vet Surgery

When Rowley Goonan, from Wild Bird Rescues, first set eyes on the magpie, it was unable to walk.

“I was called by a concerned resident to say that he had a magpie in his yard,” he said.

“The little fellow was entangled around both feet and legs

“(He) was in a miserable condition, he could only fall and tumble.”

Not just fishing line that’s harming magpies

Mr Goonan rescues anywhere between 25 and 50 birds a month – many of them tangled in string and even human hair – but fishing line is particularly nasty.

The magpie had been observed becoming increasingly tangled in the line over a period of six weeks, but they had been unable to catch it.

By the time the magpie was brought into the veterinary clinic, its skin was puffy and blood supply had been lost to one of the toes.

A woman points at a heron caught in a tree (left). A man in a hat and shorts holds a heron caught in fishing line (centre). Close up image of a fishing hook removed from the heron (right).
Rowley Goonan rescues a heron caught on fishing line and hanging from tree. Source: Wild Bird Rescues Gold Coast

“The nylon has cut really through the skin and effectively acted like a tourniquet,” Dr Cruickshank said.

Since the successful surgery, the magpie is now in care at Wildcare Australia and learning to walk again on his remaining toes.

Neither Dr Cruikshank or Mr Goonan believe most people are intentionally harming birds when they throw hair out the window near a park, or cut loose fishing line onto a beach.

They believe education is the key to helping Australians create a better environment for wildlife.

A pigeon's face looks out from a towel in the photo on the left. In a photo in the centre is a pigeon foot wrapped in human hair. The hair is on a towel as a person holds the pigeon foot on the right-hand side photo.
A pigeon has human hair removed from its feet. Source: Wild Bird Rescues Gold Coast

“Nobody sort of imagines or knows that when they brush hair and throw it out the window near a park that this happens,” Mr Goonan said.

“If birds walk through hair brushings it captures around their toes.

“It can take as little as two or three strands of hair to take off a foot.”

Even though he continues to see many similar cases each month, Dr Cruikshank is hopeful that the public will change their behaviour once they become better informed.

“I think we’re seeing change, a greater awareness,” he said.

A close up image of the magpie's feet. The magpie balancing on a horizontal perch.
The magpie learning to balance again while in care. Source: Wildcare Australia

Government issues warning to litterers

A spokesperson for the Queensland Department of Environment told Yahoo News Australia that wildlife around waterways was threatened by fishing equipment and litter.

“Fishing tackle, fishing line, crab pots, ropes and plastic rubbish can result in injuries or even death to our native wildlife,” he said in a statement.

“Careful disposal of fishing lines, particularly, will ensure they do not impact on our native wildlife.

“If fishing line is discarded as litter, on-the-spot fines of up to $266 and court-imposed penalties of more than $4000 may apply to individuals.”

The spokesperson said littering and illegal dumping could be reported to the department and they urged anglers to be be aware of fishing exclusion zones in marine parks.

People in Queensland can report injuries to native wildlife to RSPCA Qld on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).

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