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

    Saudi Arabia’s New Female Politicians in the Other Room 

    Many in Saudi Arabia say elected representatives should share unsegregated spaces; according to a recent survey, more than half the Saudi population, both men and women, prefer to work in a segregated place

    Russia Not ‘Apologetic’ for Syria Airstrikes

    With Moscow criticized for targeting armed opponents of President Assad, Russia’s UN envoy says his country ‘acting in a very transparent manner’

    Pakistan Warns of Islamic State's Growing Reach

    Aftab Sultan, General Director General of Intelligence Bureau (IB), briefed Senate Committee in closed hearing, saying that IS-linked groups have been expanding in Pakistan

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.