Birds inhabit the farthest reaches of the globe — but today, not even the most remote bird habitat can escape plastics and the threats they pose.
Each year approximately 17.6 billion pounds of plastic enters the ocean. For birds that inhabit our seas and shores, plastic pollution poses a major threat, claiming the lives of countless birds every year. These deaths are largely driven by ingestion, when birds swallow plastics, and entanglement, when birds are trapped or strangled by plastic materials.
Threat of Ingestion
Ingestion of plastic represents a serious threat to marine birds, with blocked digestive systems and compromised kidney and endocrine functions often leading to the bird's death. Most shearwaters, albatrosses, petrels, and storm-petrels have an exceptional sense of smell that allows them to find food across huge expanses of open sea. Enticed by deceptive odors that smell of food, birds swallow plastic pieces — both large and small — and will even regurgitate them for their offspring. Ingesting plastic distracts birds from real food and can pose a lethal threat.
Risk of Entanglement
String-like plastics such as fishing line and netting present a serious risk to birds by wrapping around body parts and restricting movement. Designed for transparency in water, monofilament line and netting entangle birds when used for fishing, and for years after if they are discarded or left in the water. Many species are drawn to thread-like plastics as potential nesting material. Once at the nest, this tangled plastic threatens both adult birds and their young.
Reducing Plastics to Help Birds
ABC is working to meet the challenge presented by plastics on multiple fronts. We're educating the public, removing trash from bird habitat, and advocating for smart policy solutions on both regional and national levels.