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Julie Craves explains how discarded balloons harm birds

albatross and balloon
A Black-footed Albatross encounters a floating balloon. Photo by Rich Stallcup, courtesy of Balloons Blow

In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here’s a question from our June 2014 issue:

I understand that seabirds can be harmed by deflated balloons, which look like jellyfish or other prey. Is it also true that balloons can be hazardous to land birds? — Amy Morrison, Austin, Texas

The strings and ribbons that hang from balloons can entangle birds. The materials (and pieces of balloons attached to them) can sometimes be attractive as nesting material, and even if successfully incorporated into the nest structure, they can pose a threat to nestlings as they grow and move around. I have also seen photos and a video of various birds of prey that have mistaken deflated latex balloons for food; in one instance, the flabby pink balloon looked like carrion, and a hawk tried hard to pull off a piece of the stretchy material. Essentially all balloons end up as trash or litter and take many years to break down in the environment — including balloons made of Mylar and “biodegradable” latex.


Balloons Blow
Florida-based non-profit. Its website calls attention to the problems caused by balloons, suggests environmentally friendly alternatives, and presents photos showing the effects of balloons on wildlife. The organization uses social media to oppose large releases of balloons (“mass-littering events”) at stadiums and other locations.
Follow Balloons Blow on Facebook and Twitter

Ocean Conservancy
The non-profit, based in Washington, D.C., advocates for trash-free seas. It organizes the International Coastal Cleanup, the world’s largest volunteer effort to clean up waterways and the ocean, and produces the Ocean Trash Index, a report presenting state-by-state and country-by-country data about marine debris.
Follow the Ocean Conservancy on social media

Marine Conservation Society
A UK-based charity that sponsors the Don’t Let Go Campaign to discourage people from releasing balloons and sky lanterns.

Turtle research
A 2012 study reports that 78 percent of the rubber pieces ingested by sea turtles were balloons — far more than the percentage of balloons among all marine trash.


About Julie Craves

Julie-Craves-120Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.

Read other questions that Julie has answered in “Since You Asked.”

If you have a question about birds for Julie, send it to or visit our Contact pageA version of this article was published in the June 2014 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe.

Originally Published

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