Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plastic litter rears its ugly head

I was checking nest boxes this morning at the Ecology Center where Eurasian Tree Sparrows are the dominant, if not only birds using the boxes. Eurasian Tree Sparrows are orb weavers that nest in cavities such as trees and nest boxes, gathering grasses, feathers, horse hair and even bits of garbage to create a glob of a nest with a short tunnel leading to the a hollowed center where the eggs are laid and chicks raised. Checking the boxes entails me blindly sticking my hand in through the grasses to feel for eggs and chicks. If there are only eggs or the chicks are small, I leave the nest as is and refrain from pulling the contents out. However, if the chicks feel big in my hand, I will carefully pull them out with as little disruption to the integrity of the nest as possible, to see if they are big enough to band. Usually by the time the chicks are big enough to be banded, the nest is pretty much a wreck with their movements and probably the parents feeding as well.

This morning I came across a pair of chicks entangled in plastic. They were bound together and attached to a mess of nesting material.

 It took me several minutes just to remove the nesting material from the tangle of plastic line before I could make sense of what was going on with the young birds.

One of the birds only had plastic wrapped around its foot, but the other chick had the plastic crisscrossed across its back and around its neck.

The plastic removal went uneventfully and I didn't realize I was holding my breath until I freed the last chick. Once I returned the chicks back to their nest, I sat down and examined the offending material.

This was rather flimsy and made me wonder if it was part of a shredded plastic bag.

This was the plastic bit around the neck and back of the chick.

This is what the plastic looked like stretch out. I have NO idea what it was or where it came from, but it was pretty sturdy.

A creek runs through the property of the Ecology Center and upstream there is a golf course and countless retail stores and other businesses. It is not uncommon to find quite a bit of trash in the creek and on the banks after a good flood. There's no telling where the adults found this "nesting material".  But I suspect the chicks grew into the offending nest material and I'm not sure the chick with the plastic across its back would have survived to be banded (The chicks were too small today to have bands placed on their legs).

I think people are aware of the plastics that inundate our oceans and rivers, but give little thought to the garbage that floats in creeks or blows across the parking lots to end up in someone's yard. Of course that same litter on the street and parking lots is easily accessible to birds and other wildlife, who will pick it up to use in a nest or ingest it, thinking the trash is food.

The moral of the story? Please don't litter. Most businesses have public trash cans and at the very least, keep the trash in your car until you get home and then throw it in the garbage can. But I imagine I'm preaching to the choir if you're reading my blog.


  1. You are preaching to the choir indeed! I always wear pants or shorts with pockets. I need to store my phone and the key to the building, but every night finds me emptying one pocket of the litter in my park. People are nasty. They think nothing of tossing whatever they have no use for onto the ground. Cigarettes are the nastiest things in the world and always, always end up in my grass and under the blade of the mower. I have seen them in nests, too.

    My Killdeer are still here in the park. The entire family. I hear the parents call out to the chicks every morning as I work in my gardens. I have seen them at the pond and I will mimic them and they come over and stare at me. I swear they know me!

  2. Hi Kathy - I don't know what is wrong with people. Hello, the world is not your garbage can. Although I imagine if they are throwing their trash on the ground, they probably throw their trash on the floor in their pigsty houses. Yuck.
    And I'll bet those Killdeer know you and know you're safe to approach. That is so cool!