The Mast-Head: Birds, Lures, and Lines

The kids noticed the gull, a black-back, sitting near the water’s edge, its head somewhat bloodied from an unseen wound

Last week, I wrote about a newfound interest in sea gulls, birds that I had, like many others here, tended to overlook. It was perhaps by some Murphy’s Law that one of my brothers-in-law and I ended up rescuing one on the Fourth of July.

A group of us, adults and children, had gone down to the bay for a swim. The kids noticed the gull, a black-back, sitting near the water’s edge, its head somewhat bloodied from an unseen wound. There was little we could do, we told them. Judging from its apparent immobility, some animal had probably pounced on it, and its time was just up. We could have phoned the animal rescue people, I supposed, but its chances seemed poor to none.

After a while, however, I went over for a closer look. There, under its left wing, I saw a fishing lure tangled in among the feathers. I called to Paul, who grabbed a towel, and we carefully picked the bird up. It was doing better than first appeared and did its damnedest to nip at Paul’s hands. As we stood up, we noticed that not only was the lure, a silver-and-blue plug with two treble hooks, impeding the bird’s ability to move, but a considerable length of fishing line trailed behind it as well. With Paul holding the bird, I ran for scissors and needle-nosed pliers.

It took quite some cutting and unwinding to remove the tough, green braided line to get the gull free. The lure, it turned out, did not appear to have dug into its flesh, but to have cut its legs in several places. It took about five minutes to remove the lure and all the line. A pile of some dozens of yards of it lay on the sand as Paul carried the bird back to the water and placed it gently down.

The first thing it did was sip some water from the bay, then walk gingerly back and forth. It hung around for an hour, and when I returned a while later, it was gone — good news, I wanted to believe. It was only afterward that I got to wondering about the great length of line. It struck me as odd that the gull could have been carrying so much of it.

Having had to work with some difficulty to cut it, it seemed unlikely that the gull could have gotten got caught in the line and caused it to break. Rather (and having run into something similar while fishing myself), I guessed that some angler had accidentally cast the lure right onto the gull, and instead of reeling it in and freeing it, decided to cut the line and let it fend for itself.

It was only chance that the gull ended up in front of our house and that Paul and I were there, ready, willing, and able to get it loose. Whatever had caused its head wounds would have been likely to return that night to finish the job, I thought. Now, I could be wrong about how the gull became ensnared, but I don’t think so. I’ll never know for sure, but I’ll keep my suspicions for the time being. That line was just too strong for it to have snapped on its own.

As for my own involvement with a bird and a lure, in that case, it was a cormorant I snagged off Gardiner’s Island. We slowly moved the boat as close as we could, scooped up the bird, and, despite its nips and scratches, set it free hardly the worse for the experience.