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Daring treetop rescue: Injured seagull on the mend after becoming tangled in fishing line

'It really does take a village of people who care to have a successful outcome like this,' said Speaking of Wildlife official after dramatic rescue at Couchiching Beach Park

A dramatic treetop rescue this week required a lot of teamwork and communication between many individuals to bring a gull tangled in fishing line to safety.

Krystal Hewitt of Speaking of Wildlife (SOW) received a call for help at about 5 p.m. on May 15.

“A guy named Steve who was working for the construction crew at the parking lot at the Couchiching Beach boat launch called me," explained Hewitt. 

"He had seen this gull tangled in the tree and had actually tried to get at him a variety of ways ... but was unsuccessful. He reached out on social media and someone mentioned that we help with animal rescue and that’s how he got our number," she explained.

Hewitt and her staff at SOW — a Severn Township wildlife sanctuary that provides permanent sanctuary to non-releasable Ontario wildlife — are often called upon to rescue animals or birds that have gotten themselves into life-threatening situations. 

“I thought we (myself and Alex Fry, another staff member at SOW) would go on a little adventure, and headed off to the park. We wandered around, but couldn’t see a gull stuck in a tree anywhere," she said. "Luckily then, Steve came along and pointed us to a very tall tree nearer the road. The gull was way up in the top of it, at least 25 feet off the ground.”

Hewitt and Fry quickly realized the ladder and net they had brought along weren’t going to work. The gull was "very tangled" in the line, up very high, and passersby told them it had been up there for hours. It was clear that a rescue needed to happen — and quickly.

“So, I called in a favour from my friend Adam Gutowsky from Apex Tree Surgeons. Adam is a former fish and wildlife guy, and he didn’t hesitate. He gave up his after-work social life to come down and rescue this poor bird," said Hewitt.

Gutowsky assembled his equipment and arrived speedily. He quickly climbed up the tree, got the bird into a bag, and brought him back down. The bird was not overly grateful for the help and, in fact, was fairly aggressive. Fortunately, with Gutowsky’s experience with wildlife, he wasn’t deterred from his mission.

“I was hoping that the bird had just been tangled in the line, and not injured, but once we got him down, we realized that the fishing lure had actually been embedded in his wing," said Hewitt.

"The poor guy had some lacerations, as well as being dehydrated from being stuck so long,” she explained. 

It was quickly decided that a trip to Shades of Hope in Pefferlaw was in order. Shades of Hope is a wildlife rehabilitation centre that can treat injured animals and then release them back into the wild, once they are healed. Hewitt has a close relationship with them.

“Off we went to Shades, and then they swung into action,” said Hewitt. “They triaged the bird, gave him some pain management and now he’s in their care. Hopefully, he will make a full recovery and be released back into the wild."

Hewitt and the gull are "very grateful" to everyone who worked together to make this rescue possible.

"Steve noticed the bird, people online knew who to call, we came, we knew who to call, Adam was a hero, Shades is amazing ... it really does take a village of people who care to have a successful outcome like this,” Hewitt said.

“Everyone was invested and involved in this bird’s rescue, and that’s what made it happen.”

The incident is an important reminder to anglers.

“And just a note that if you are fishing and your line and lure get tangled, please, please take the time to cut it out and take it away with you," advised Hewitt. "And if you see some line tangled somewhere, please clean it up and take it away. We see birds and other animals tangled so often, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s all look after each other.”

Luckily for a gull at Couchiching Beach Park this week, everyone was looking after each other, and he lived to squawk another day.