Photos by Ray and Margaret Harden
A Sad Bird Story
By: Ray Harden
On Sunday July 9, 2023, I witnessed a sad event. Margaret and I were birding near the Woodward, Iowa, boat ramp on a large area of state owned land. There is a small pond near the gravel road one fourth of a mile southwest of the boat ramp. We had stopped there in years past and the area always had a variety of birds that we observed and photographed. We have seen American Redstarts, Indigo Bunting, ducks and some shore birds at this pond.
After we pulled into the designated parking area we turned on the Merlin Sound ID program. This is an app own our phones that can hear a bird singing and then identifies the bird from its song. As usual several species were identified. The loudest and most numerous songs were from the Warbling Vireos. We quickly spotted a couple and watched them, hoping that they would get close for a good photo. Soon a small flock of a half dozen birds formed and they all flew into a honey locust tree growing on the edge of the pond and flittered around in the foliage. Before I could get my camera up they flew out of the tree and into the woods.
We searched the branches and leaves for one that might have stayed behind. I saw movement. It looked as if one bird was hopping from limb to limb in a feeding frenzy. But something looked odd, the movement stayed in the same area. “There it is,” Margaret said, “it is feeding on something red.”
Walking closer, the movement stayed in the same place. This was not normal.
I continued walking through the waist high multiflora roses and poison ivy growing along the pond’s edge until I was directly beneath the moving bird.
It was a Warbling Vireo, and this poor bird was not going anywhere. It was about twelve feet in the air hanging over an open space in the branches. Somehow it had gotten hooked on a red lead-headed jig fishing lure. The bird was hooked through both the lower and upper beak. It was desperately trying to free itself by flapping its wings and kicking with both feet.
With all the energy the bird was exerting trying to free itself, this had to have happened very recently; probably when I saw the flock fly into the tree. Maybe it just accidently flew into the lure or maybe the lure’s red color made the vireo think it was an insect.
I thought about things that I might be able to do to free the little critter. The tree was a honey locust with what looked like a million thorns on every branch, so I could not climb it. I could not find a stick long enough to reach the bird. I tried to shake the limbs but it did not move the vireo. The temperature was in the upper 80’s and I could tell it was quickly losing it strength. I was out of ideas; sadly I gave up and wished the little bird a quick death.