A Hazard to Birds: Plastic Grass in Easter Baskets

Easter is right around the corner, and however we’re going to celebrate it during this “situation,” it’s not hard to envision gleeful children tearing into their baskets full of candy and toys. The goodies are embedded in layers of cheap shredded plastic meant to simulate grass. The grass flies everywhere as the children grab the goodies. Public parks and backyards are often strewn with thousands of small shreds of plastic after Easter celebrations that are difficult to clean up.  This is a problem not just because it is unsightly but also because it can kill birds.  Easter occurs during nesting season and birds are attracted to the shiny pieces of plastic to incorporate into their nests. The problem is that the chicks can get tangled in the plastic and are unable to escape from it because they cannot break it with their beaks.

Nature’s way

San Fernando Valley Audubon sponsors a group that monitors bluebird nest boxes in a local park and we have seen what can happen to a chick that gets tangled in Easter grass.  One particular chick must have had a habit of twisting his leg around the nest materials. He was found in the box with the plastic grass so tightly wrapped around his leg that it was cutting off circulation to the lower part of his leg causing a large swelling. If the nest had been made entirely of natural grasses the bird could have pecked it off.  We cut off the plastic with a cuticle scissor and hoped his leg would heal. When we came back to recheck the box in a week all of the other chicks in the nest had fledged and were gone but this little guy was still in the box all alone, and he had done it again.  He was trapped in the box by another piece of plastic grass wrapped around his leg. We cut it off again and this time removed the whole nest.  He seemed otherwise healthy, well feathered and ready to fly.  A week later we checked and he had fledged into the world. This bird surely would have died had he was not been in a monitored nest. We were happy to know that we were able to help him but the best solution would be for people not to use plastic grass in Easter baskets.  Shredded paper is available, crumpled up colorful napkins or even fresh herbs like rosemary or lavender. 

Be creative; the kids won’t care — they are only after the candy.