CROW Case of the Week: Royal Tern (#21-4876)

Patient #21-4876 had a hook removed from the back of its head photo by Haillie Mesics

The royal tern (Thalasseus maximus) is a whitish bird with gray wings. It stands out with its black shaggy crown and daggerlike orange bill. This shorebird can be seen in a colony along the sandy beaches or diving for small fish in shallow waters.

At CROW, an adult royal tern was admitted from the South Seas Island Resort beachfront after two Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) interns found it entangled in fishing line. The tern was attached to a laughing gull by monofilament line, which SCCF interns Malina Barker and Aaron White removed. They were able to release the laughing gull on site, but the royal tern had a hook embedded in the back of its head.

The patient did not require sedation prior to hook removal. X-rays showed no orthopedic abnormalities, though it did show an old, healed injury from a pellet.

“We were able to remove (the hook) quickly during intake by cutting the barbed end,” said Dr. Charlotte Cournoyer, CROW veterinarian intern.

The old pellet injury was not deemed a concern.

“It is not since the site has healed and there is no active inflammation or infection,” said Dr. Cournoyer. “We took x-rays to ensure it was not inside the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, which would be cause for concern, but it was not.”

The tern received supportive care, daily tub time and recess with a heat lamp, along with other shorebirds.

“Recess gives our patients time to move around and build strength. The heat lamp helps with the waterproofing of their feathers. If there is compromise to their waterproofing, allowing them to get a bit wet during tub time then giving them recess with a heat lamp and some preening helps restore the waterproofing,” said Dr. Cournoyer. “The patient is (being) fed smelt which is a small fish. Supportive care included vitamins designed for piscivorous birds on a frozen/thawed fish diet, under the skin (subcutaneous) fluids, antibiotics, pain medications and assisted feeds as needed.”

The bird recovered enough in a week’s time to be moved outdoors. It will remain in an outdoor enclosure at the clinic until it is fully recovered and ready to fly distances on its own.

“The patient was eating well, the hook wound resolved, and (it was) walking normally, so the patient was moved outside,” said Dr. Cournoyer. “The patient will need time to build strength for flight conditioning; this can be a few days or longer.

“The patient also has pododermatitis, so it will need time for that to improve. Pododermatitis is inflammation and infection on the bottom surface of the feet, so being outside on a more naturalsubstrate should also help that improve.”

To avoid such injuries, anglers should dispose of excess fishing line and gear in appropriate receptacles to reduce the harmful impacts on wildlife and the marine environment.

“We always encourage fishers to remove all hooks and lines from the beach and water when they leave. Any gear left behind has the potential to impose significant damage to the health of wildlife, even death,” said Dr. Cournoyer. “Please visit for more information about how to safely remove your gear from wildlife if they are entangled, and please always feel free to contact CROW if you think an entangled animal could need medical assistance.”

CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

If you would like to make a donation to CROW, click here!