Mark Rachal was idling his skiff in Tampa Bay when he received a call about a bird in distress. It was near the Alafia Banks Critical Wildlife Area, which is leased from and managed in collaboration with The Mosaic Company and Port Tampa Bay. A biologist with Audubon Florida and the manager of the Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries, Rachal routinely patrols this shoreline but what he would find on this day was definitely not routine.
With his heart racing, Rachal slowed the boat as soon as he could see the Roseate Spoonbill that was in a horrible predicament. The bird was struggling to free itself from braided fishing line wrapped around both of its legs and the vegetation.
Boating and fishing are among the most popular recreational activities that people enjoy in Tampa Bay, and staff with the Sanctuary frequently encounter birds entangled in fishing line after it is too late to help them. Some, however, can be saved.
Carefully picking up the bird, Rachal was able to cut the line off at the vegetation, and then inspected the bird’s legs. If the bird had remained entangled for even a few more hours, the injury to its leg could have been severe. Even though the line was cinched tightly around one of the legs, there did not seem to be much of an abrasion or swelling of the toes, and the bird felt very strong as it struggled to escape human hands. Rachal decided to release it and it flew off immediately.
It seems he caught this one early enough.
What made this rescue even more compelling was the colored band that Rachal saw on the bird’s left leg: Red horizontal US. He knew that under the direction of Audubon Florida’s Director of Research, Jerry Lorenz, Ph.D., staff banded the bird as a chick at the Alafia Bank Bird Sanctuary back in May 2008. This individual has been making their home in Tampa Bay for 13 years! It is one of the oldest living Roseate Spoonbills on our record. Last year, he spotted a different banded Roseate Spoonbill: Red vertical 43. That bird, a 16-year-old spoonbill seen roosting on the Sanctuary’s newly installed breakwater, was also banded at the Alafia Bank n 2004! We continue to learn a lot about Florida’s stunning pink birds thanks to Audubon’s banding and monitoring program that has been taking place at Everglades Science Center.
How can you help Roseate Spoonbills? Being vigilant with your fishing line is one way. Properly disposing of used fishing line and removing any snagged line from nearby trees or structures can not only help spoonbills but all wading birds and aquatic animals. If you happen to spot a Roseate Spoonbill or other wading bird or seabird with a band on its leg, please report it.
Audubon protects birds and the places they need, today and in the future.