News / Science & Technology

Birds Feather Nests with Deadly Twine, Fishing Lines

This is how ospreys’ unhealthy affinity for baling twine can kill. Idaho Fish and Game biologist Beth Waterbury rescued this osprey in the nick of time. (Beth Waterbury, Idaho Fish and Game)
This is how ospreys’ unhealthy affinity for baling twine can kill. Idaho Fish and Game biologist Beth Waterbury rescued this osprey in the nick of time. (Beth Waterbury, Idaho Fish and Game)
Tom Banse

The osprey, a common bird of prey found around the world, builds big nests near rivers, lakes and bays. Some of these large raptors line their nests with discarded baling twine or fishing line, but this habit can kill them.

U.S. biologists, including University of Montana professor Erick Greene, are working with ranchers and at boat ramps to keep the attractive nuisance out of the ospreys' clutches.

Greene, resident ecologist with the Montana Osprey Project, has surveyed osprey nests in his home state and across the northwest. In all those places, he discovered nests festooned with brightly colored plastic twine.

“Basically, wherever you’ve got agriculture, hay fields, livestock - which is a lot of the West - you have baling twine, which is used to tie up hay bales, and you have ospreys,” Greene said.

  • Discarded baling twine adorns a nest on the outskirts of Missoula. (Courtesy of Erick Greene, Univ. of Montana)
  • This is how ospreys’ unhealthy affinity for baling twine can kill. Idaho Fish and Game biologist Beth Waterbury rescued this osprey in the nick of time. (Beth Waterbury, Idaho Fish and Game)
  • Linemen from Missoula Electric Cooperative prepare to clean the nest. (Tom Banse/VOA)
  • The alarmed osprey parents circle the whole time, but do not act aggressively toward the good Samaritans. (Tom Banse/VOA)
  • The “polluted” nest contained two osprey chicks. (Tom Banse/VOA)
  • Missoula Electric Cooperative linemen George Porter and Eric Nicoson work on the nest. (Courtesy of Erick Greene, Univ. of Montana)
  • Scissors are George Porter’s tool of choice to remove the baling twine woven into this osprey nest. (Tom Banse/VOA)
  • Another osprey nest awaiting cleanup in the Missoula area. (Courtesy of Erick Greene, Univ. of Montana)
  • University of Montana Professor Erick Greene says one osprey nest he dissected contained nearly one half mile of discarded baling twine. (Courtesy of Erick Greene, Univ. of Montana)
  • Montana Osprey Project disentangles an osprey chick last month near Missoula. (Courtesy of Erick Greene, Univ. of Montana)
  • This large osprey chick was entangled in tough polypro twine before it was rescued last month. (Courtesy of Erick Greene, Univ. of Montana)

Biologists don't know why the fish hawks are particularly fond of soft, frayed rope, which they use it in place of lichens or grasses in their nests.

Fatal attraction

It’s sometimes a fatal attraction.

“It looks as if anywhere between 10-to-30 percent of osprey chicks and adults in some areas that are particularly hard hit are killed by this baling twine," Greene said. "The entangled raptors can suffer gruesome deaths by strangulation or starve because they can’t fly off to fish."

That is, unless someone comes to the rescue or, better yet, gives a nest what Greene calls a preventive “haircut.”

He enlists a bucket truck and a crew of linemen from the Missoula Electric Cooperative, and they head to a nest with chicks. It’s on top of a power pole in the middle of a ranch by the Clark Fork River. It's a nest Greene has been worried about for years.

"It has killed a lot of ospreys over the years. This is going to be a good one to clean up," he said.

Rescue effort

Lineman George Porter leads a team up to the nest with scissors.

Strands of orange string drape from the wide bowl of sticks like Christmas tinsel. Soon, any unnatural nest material will be removed by snipping and tugging.

It appears as if the ospreys tied knots in the nest.

"That’s basically what it looks like, all tangled,” Porter said. “Yeah, they definitely use it to hold everything together.”

There are multiple kinds of twine in the nest, including a piece of black nylon rope.

The osprey parents squawk anxiously in the background, but they circle at a distance and don't interfere with the quick cleanup of their nest.

Logical solutions

The preferable solution, of course, would be to keep twine and fishing line out of nests in the first place.

In Idaho, the state Fish and Game Department and its local partners are placing periscope-shaped recycling bins for fishing line at boat ramps. State wildlife biologist Beth Waterbury also worked on setting up a baling twine pick up and recycling program in her area.

“It’s a logical solution," she said. "I think it is going to make a difference for the incidence of entanglement.”

In western Montana, student researcher Amanda Schrantz did public outreach to farm groups and individual ranchers. She says many had no idea about the lethal effects of discarded twine or the pressing need to collect and store it out of sight.

Schrantz says if just one ranch or dairy leaves twine in its fields, the ospreys will find it.

“Ospreys will go great distances to pick up this baling twine," she said. "Even though we don’t know why, they are. You kind of have to have 100 percent cooperation with this.”

In Oregon, Colorado and Minnesota, private recyclers of plastics accept used baling twine and hay wrap. They can melt it down into new baler twine or automotive parts. Another company recycles recovered monofilament fishing line into artificial reef pieces.

See a livestream of an osprey nest by clicking here.  

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Nadeem Shehzad from: New Delhi, India
August 13, 2014 3:24 AM
We run a bird rescue service here in India and we see this type of cases almost every other day. Here the nylon thread is used for flying paper kites and you can see them entangled in branches and of course a building material for nests by birds, specially Raptors. There is no count how many have lost their lives because of these nylon and as well as cotton threads.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs