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30 October 2011

“Screech”, “screech”, “screeeeeeech!”  - what IS that noise I thought as I walked behind the street.  I followed the racket and saw a starling perched on the top of a black house. Not terribly unusual but this bird was staring down into a patch of Iris and the noise was coming from there.  What's going on?  On closer inspection I found another starling that had somehow managed to get its left leg wrapped up in a dead Iris leaf.  I didn’t take long to untangle the bird and after a quick check of its wings, legs and body I let it go and it flew off without any apparent problems.

Starling with its leg tangled in an Iris

The starling isn't the only bird that has been found tangled up this season but other instances involve seabirds caught in fishing gear.  In June, a gannet was seen caught in a fishing net. Luckily, one of the day boat operators had their zodiac out around the back of Dun and the people on board managed to catch the bird and release it unharmed. 

Gannet caught in fishing net

photo: Hannah Wood

Only a few days after that instance, a trip to Soay ended sadly when I found a dead great skua entangled in over a metre of fishing line. The bird had obviously swallowed a fishing hook and the line was wrapped around the wing and legs of the bird.

Head of a great skua and the hook it swallowedBody cavity of a great skua wrapped in fishing line

photo 1: great skua skull with fishing line inside the bill and the hook that was found inside the body cavity of the bird

photo 2: line wrapped around the body of the bird

Fishing gear – either industrial or recreational - that is lost or deliberately discarded continues to "ghost fish" (catch fish and other wildlife) for many years. The nets or line are often nearly invisible in dim light and seabirds can swallow hooks or become accidentally entangled in line or nets.  Once tangled the fishing equipment restricts movement causing starvation, lacerations, infection and death.  The scale of the impact of ghost fishing on marine species is largely unknown but it is something we are constantly aware of on St Kilda. 

Gina, Seabird and Marine Ranger

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