Kite String – Yet Another Death Trap For Birds

Warning – these two photos are not easy to look at, especially if you love birds.  If you are sensitive and/or squeamish about seeing photos of suffering and dead birds you may want to click out of this post without proceeding further.  Please, no complaints about the nature of these images – you have been warned…




Several years ago the neighbor kids in the home behind and adjoining my back yard would occasionally fly kites from their own yard.  Given the small size of their lot and the many mature and very large trees in the neighborhood it was a kite-disaster waiting to happen.  I had no inkling at the time that it would also be a disaster for a bird.

Sure enough, the kite string snagged between two trees – one in another adjoining neighbors yard and another at the far side of mine.  The kids were able to retrieve the kite but it left a long section of the string stretched tight between the two trees directly above the fence line in my back yard and about 35′ off the ground.  It was there for several days and it was out of my reach so I mostly ignored it.  I never even thought of it as a potential danger to birds.

I should have…


American Robin

Very early one May morning (I was about to leave on a bird photography trip) I turned the back yard lights on and walked outside to check the progress of my vegetable garden, only to hear a fluttering sound coming from above me in the pre-dawn near darkness.  Within a few minutes there was enough light that I could tell it was an American Robin snagged in the kite string.  It was still struggling and it was a sight to break one’s heart.

At first I couldn’t figure out how to rescue the bird.  I used my lens to try to see how seriously it was entangled and even though it was still quite dark (much darker than it appears in this photo, I’ve increased exposure during processing) I could see well enough to determine that this robin was likely doomed unless I did something.

I found my own piece of string and a heavy metal washer in my garage so I tied the washer to the end of my string and after several attempts was able to throw the washer over the kite string.  The kite string was very long (it stretched roughly 90′ across the entire length of the boundary of our back yards) so as I pulled on my own string the kite string stretched considerably before it broke.

When it did finally break the robin was flung high into the larger tree in my other neighbors back yard.  Even though by now it was relatively light I couldn’t see or hear the robin through all the leaves so I figured (hoped) the bird had already flown off and would be fine so I left on my photography trip.

I was wrong.


american robin 2893 ron dudley

When the leaves of the tree had fallen in November I spotted this heart-breaking sight high up in the tree.

All that winter I could see what was left of this bird through the window as I stood at the kitchen sink.  It was a stark and constant reminder that if I’d thought of the kite string as a danger to birds and broken it in a timely fashion this bird would not have suffered and died.

And that’s why I’m making this post – perhaps we all should be more pro-active in anticipating hazards to birds.  These days they need all the help they can get.



33 comments to Kite String – Yet Another Death Trap For Birds

  • CJ Margulis

    That horrible fake cobweb stuff around Halloween can also be a ghastly torture device for birds! Please discourage people from using that stuff, which can entrap, injure, or harm wildlife. Especially in the autumn where there’s less tree foliage and birds seek cover in hedges covered with that needless faux cobwebs.

  • If you only caused one additional person to may more attention, your post was worth it, Ron. As you are well aware, the more we get out into the natural world, the more drama we witness. And as the natural world collides with the “advancement” of “civilization”, the greater chance that the drama will be the result of human carelessness.

    Kudos on your documentary efforts!

  • Cindy

    Heartbreaking! I have seen a few examples of the hazards of string, fishing line, etc, too. I even question the practice of putting out bits of string and other fiber in the theory birds use it for nesting, as it may be doing more harm than good. On one of our regular travels some yrs back, there was a chain link fence that had a dead bird hanging from it by some sort of man made string. There was nowhere to stop to cut down the sad carcas so every time we passed that spot I got so sad.

  • It’s hard to know what may be a danger to birds sometimes. I have heard just this week though that barbed wire is being changed out of some fences when owners realise the number of birds and animals it is injuring, so that at least is good news.

  • Carol

    Here in New York the problem is fishing line left in trees. Many birds have succumbed to the same fate as your robin. The Cayuga Bird Club in Ithaca has worked to raise awareness of this issue. It’s always heart breaking to see birds suffer due to man’s unawareness of the simple things they due which brings harm to others.

  • Susan

    I have been thinking about the post all day, and reading the comments. The thing I find most appalling is that so few people give any thought to how their actions affect the world they live in. I tend not to participate in activities like kite flying or fishing of any sort, and I try to be careful with what I do, but at the same time I can’t be certain that I don’t do things that negatively affect wildlife. Wildlife is precious and anything we can do to protect it from harm would be helpful. My encounters with wildlife, be it beetles, birds, butterflies or lizards (or any other creature) make my day whenever they happen. This post and all the comments have made me realize how important it is to be aware of how my actions impact wildlife, and I will definitely work on being more aware of what I do. I don’t like to have to read posts like this, but I am glad you post them and will continue to read them and be grateful to you and to all of your readers who are also concerned.

    • “My encounters with wildlife, be it beetles, birds, butterflies or lizards (or any other creature) make my day whenever they happen.”

      We’re peas in a pod, Susan. Without these kinds of encounters with critters my life would be so much diminished.

      I’m aware that many people “don’t like to read posts like this” and that’s why I was very careful with my introduction, to give those folks who would prefer not to look a way out before they saw the photos. I once posted these same two images on a Nature Photography critique forum on their “Environmental Photojournalism” page. While it was generally very well received as a call to action, one lady ripped me a new anal sphincter for posting such disturbing photos and for taking the time to photograph the robin before trying to rescue it. With this post I just decided that the value of possibly raising awareness was worth the risk of offending someone.

      I appreciate your honest and heartfelt feedback on this, Susan. A lot.

      • Susan

        So sorry to hear about your new anal sphincter. It seems to me that it was totally uncalled for, even though I can understand her concern and have been that disturbed over things I’ve seen (a PBS documentary about cowbirds parasitizing prothonotary warblers that had me screaming at the TV for a while comes to mind… The difference here is that I recognized the problem as my own, and found constructive ways to deal with it that did not involve the documentary maker or the station that aired the documentary). It is possible to get one’s differing point of view across without inflicting anatomical changes on others. 🙂

  • Patty Chadwick

    It’s not enough to just cringe when I see something like t,his…I have to DO something about it….As Malcom X said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”. For ex. I tie plastic bags into knots before turning them in for recycling (I ttry to avoid using them altogether, but end with some, anyway)so they can’t fly up into trees, and we make sure the tops of tin cans are completely removed so wildlife like skunks don’t get their heads caught in them, etc. I would welcome other ideas to include in my FrOGS Hazards project. I have almost a year to work on it and hope it “grows legs”. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to spread the word.

  • Heartbreaking. And far too common. And avoidable.
    Thanks Ron. Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

  • Bryce Robinson

    Very tough to take in Ron. I’m glad you made the post though. We need constant reminders to be conscious and aware of how we can affect the world around us.

  • Not easy to look at these photos, but they must be shown and shared to raise awareness. Thanks Ron.

  • 48dodger

    You’ve saved a lot of birds Ron, that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance. Your blog helps people understand why they love nature through your hard work in photography. I admire your work ethic, attention to detail and joy in doing those things…its kind of rubbed off on me. And if you can influence an old dog like me, imagine the affect on the younger crowd. Falconry for me, is a huge commitment to one bird…..but yours is so much more dynamic and broader. Its that way because you decide to make it that way. Somewhere a reader of yours taught their child something they’ve learned from your work on this blog….and someday that very child might save a lil Robin from a terrible stituation. And for that, I thank you.


  • What a horrible way to die, slowly, by hanging from one wing! One of our biologists rescued a Western Tanager that got hooked on a ‘tied fly’ hanging from a tree at a local fishing pond. He noticed the tanager fluttering around in circles below a tree and realized that it had thought the ‘fly’ was a meal. He moved his vehicle beneath the frantic bird, climbed on top of his truck and was able to free it after removing the hook from the bird’s tongue. The only thing I wish he would have done differently was to turn the bird in to a wildlife rehabilitator. Thanks for sharing this painful post.

  • patty Chadwick

    After last evening’s deer death, I almost chose not to watch this morning’s blog. Having rehabbed many birds and other animals, I knew this would hurt. Your blogs have always been so informative, and I know your heart’s in the right place, so I decided to trust you— to tell me,to show me something I should know. I will make sure my children, grandchildren, and anyone else I can tell knows about this…and give them ideas about how to get rid of these hazards…like the old chinese way of gluing broken glass to a string which can be attached to another kite or a arrow and sawing the string free, or attaching a razor blade to a long pole or stick, etc….BUT TO DO IT!!! I am able to reach at least 300 people or more each day at our annual FrOGS show (a fundraiser for protection of a special environmental area.) Now next year’s event will include a station and display about hazards…how to remedy and, more importantly,how to AVOID them. The show is free, and very popular with children, teachers, canoers, hikers, backpackrs, campers, photographers, and probably kite flyers and fishermen, etc.. I would like to use your pictures if I may. If not, I’ll paint some…will also have a book or poster board where others can add their own concerns…and make them think. You sure made me think…

  • Ellen

    So, so sad what humans do to our wildlife. Nature can be cruel enough. No excuse for what humans do.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Sad tale and shots! We had a similar problem in our neighborhood with fishing line.I guess the resident was practicing casting when he got it hung up. Fortunately ours ended happily. It was a barred owl (the only one I’ve ever seen) and it was taken to a raptor rehab, treated and then brought back for release. Can’t you show these shots to your neighbors so that their kids don’t repeat this? I sure hope so.

  • patty Chadwick

    Heartbreakers…my heart is still sore from witnessing the terrible death of a yearling white tailed deer last evening. We didn’t see it hit, but a couple of cars were stopped…we dragged it off of the road, hoping it was just stunned, but it died. IIt was probably trying to cross the road to get to the river for water. People don’t know, don’y care or forget that’s so likely that time of day and they drive so fast. I still feel sick about it and it now these so terribly, terribly sad birds and their tragic deaths. We need to be reminded of these things, however disturbing. Thank you for that.

  • Kelly Colgan Azar

    Heartbreaking. Awful. And so familiar. There was the Robin’s wing under the bushes, surgically removed and beautifully intact, a souvenir left by my neighbor’s cat. And the female Baltimore Oriole struggling high in a tree, attached to a clump of fishing line and hooks. The extraordinary shower of feathers when a car in a hurry hit a Red-tailed hawk stooping for a dead groundhog in the road. We need a sea change in values.

    • 48dodger

      “The extraordinary shower of feathers when a car in a hurry hit a Red-tailed hawk stooping for a dead groundhog in the road.”

      This is what I remind people of when they see hawks on telephone poles along the road. A lot of hawks will learn to “hunt by the bumper”. A car drives by, prey moves, and they strike. Hawks who learn this very bad habit often suffer what you just described. I took Sakura in from a busy Highway where she was doing the very same thing. I like to believe I saved her from a terrible fate, but when she flies so high, does things in the sky I can only dream about, and chooses to fly back to me…it always makes me wonder who was saving who. 🙂

    • Kelly, there does seem to be no end to the unnatural threats to birds these days.