Ospreys, and discarded line and twine: The fatal attraction
An osprey perches on an upright branch.
An osprey perches on an upright branch.

Ospreysólarge birds of prey more commonly known as fish hawksówill fly into Utah soon to begin their nesting season.

Unfortunately, when they get here, a fatal attraction will be waiting for themódiscarded baling twine and fishing line.

A fatal attraction

Discarded piles of baling twine can be seen throughout Utah, especially in agricultural areas. And discarded fishing line isn't hard to find at allójust look next to almost any fishing water in the state.

"I've seen firsthand the fatal attraction discarded twine and line pose to ospreys," says Scott Root, a regional outreach manager with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Root says ospreys typically use tree branches to build their large nests. As they build their nests, they sometimes use twine and fishing line to bind or adorn their nests. In the process, they can become fatally entwined in these manmade materials.

And the young ospreys that hatch in the nest face the same hazard.

"If a nest contains baling twine or fishing line, there's a good chance at least one of the birds will get entangled and die," Root says.

Bob Walters, Watchable Wildlife coordinator for the DWR, saw this firsthand last summer. While checking nests in north-central Utah, he found several ospreys that had been killed or injured after becoming entangled in baling twine and monofilament fishing line.

"Many of these synthetic materials may appear to be biodegradable, but it can take years for them to naturally decompose," Walters says.

How you can help

This dead osprey nestling was found entangled 
          in baling twine and fishing line.
This dead osprey nestling was found entangled in baling twine and fishing line.
Photo by Scott Root

If you're an angler or someone who comes across fishing line while you're in the outdoors, take a few minutes to collect it. Then dispose of it in the trash when you get home.

Baling twine can be handled much the same way. Simply collect the baling twine, wrap it up, put it in garbage bags and take it to the nearest landfill.

If you own a large area of land, collecting baling twine can be a bit more challenging. You may want to consider inviting scout groups and other volunteer groups in your area to help.

A nationwide problem

Utah isn't the only place where baling twine and fishing line pose a threat to wildlife. For example, biologists in Montana made an astonishing discovery in the Missoula Valleyómore than 95 percent of the osprey nests they visited in the valley had baling twine in them.

In other areas in the country, studies have found that 10 percent of the osprey nestlings in these areas die after becoming entangled in baling twine.

In one nest, researchers found more than a quarter of a mile of baling twine within the nest material!