Let’s clean up our act!

The impact of litter on wildlife

Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton

Forty years ago I chanced upon a grim scene. It was while exploring with a school friend on a wooded peninsula at the eastern end of Three Mile Lake in Muskoka. Above us something large was swinging from the limb of a poplar tree. A cursory investigation revealed the unfortunate, upside-down carcass of a great horned owl. He was at least two feet high and his huge yellow eyes were still open.
Disturbed by our discovery, we elected to solicit the counsel of my father, the landowner. He managed to climb a few lower limbs, high enough to untangle some silk cord fishing line from a branch and lowered the beautiful bird to the ground. Clearly saddened by the sight, Dad theorized that some local fishermen, who frequented the nearby rocky point, had likely been careless in their cleanup. Perhaps the unsuspecting owl had landed to sample some fish remains and inadvertently stepped on a length of cut fishing line. The line then tangled around one of his talons. Then the owl may have landed in the poplar, where the line managed to become wrapped around the branch. When he took off from his perch, the great horned owl didn’t get any further than the length of line and likely starved to death. A sad end to the life of what is possibly our most powerful owl. Dad carefully and silently buried that great horned owl. My friend and I conducted a simple funeral.
Many people do not give a second thought to the impact that various kinds of litter can have on wildlife. A piece of chewing gum can choke a curious bird. The plastic rings that hold a six-pack of cans are frequently seen lying by the roadside. These rings have been well documented as being the culprits in getting tangled around the beaks and necks of waterfowl, making it impossible for them to eat. By the way, my family always picks up the plastic rings and takes them home to be cut into small pieces and disposed of properly.
I shudder when I see people allowing helium balloons, strings attached, to go sailing into the vast unknown. These can become lodged in trees with their strings dangling down, possibly causing the entanglement of any wildlife which inhabits the tree.
An unfortunate blue heron was recently the victim of someone’s carelessness as it became entangled in some fishing line and a lure along the Thames River in London. It was ensnared by its beak, and the line was then attached to one of its wings. Fortunately, it was rescued and delivered to the animal shelter in Mount Brydges. The offending lure has been removed and the bird is recovering from starvation and shock, as well as its injuries. Hopefully this majestic bird will make a full recovery before it is returned to a questionable environment. The amount of litter along the Thames is completely unnecessary.
We need to be accountable for our actions. Litter is litter. Let’s clean up our act and encourage others to do the same.

Jenipher Appleton is an educator with a special interest in wildlife and birds.