Fake Halloween Cobwebs Pose Real Threat to Birds


Halloween and Christmas decorations can harm birds and wildlife. That's not fun.

by Tai Moses

Oct. 25, 2015—One recent Halloween, a Marin family opened their door to a particularly raucous trick-or-treater only to find a live Western screech owl hanging upside-down from their Halloween decorations. The small native owl was entangled in the sticky strands of fake cobweb that festooned the tree near their porch. When the owl tried to fly away, the stretchy stuff stuck to his talons and wings, and in his panic, he’d become hopelessly ensnared.

The little owl was lucky: an officer from the Humane Society was able to free him by carefully snipping away the cottony fibers. After a checkup at Wildcare, the local wildlife rescue group, he was released back into the neighborhood. The family took down their fake cobwebs and vowed never again to use the product. They still love to decorate the exterior of their home for the holidays, but now they make their own decorations out of paper and other materials that pose no danger to their wild neighbors.

Diaphanous fake cobwebs may help give your home that haunted house atmosphere you’re aiming for this Halloween, but the sticky stuff creates an unintentional hazard for birds and wildlife. Every year, wildlife rescuers remind Halloween celebrants not to use fake cobwebs outdoors, where the unsuspecting birds who perch, feed and take shelter in shrubbery wind up with the sticky fibers wrapped around their talons, wings and beaks. Entangled birds cannot free themselves without help, and if the fake webs hinder their ability to fly, walk, find food or elude predators, they will not survive for long. The stuff is so lightweight it also blows away in the wind, and many a fox, raccoon or skunk has gotten the fibrous strands wrapped around their toes, legs and muzzles. The makers of the fake cobwebs turn a deaf ear to wildlife advocates who plead with them to put warnings on the packaging. Since it’s not recyclable, the stuff goes to the landfill, where it often finds its way onto the bodies of seagulls and pigeons.

Halloween isn’t the only holiday that claims wild victims. Birds and animals frequently become ensnared in tinsel and loosely strung strings of Christmas lights draped on bushes and trees. Every year wildlife rescue groups get calls about adult deer or elk with Christmas lights tangled in their antlers. It may seem humorous, but it’s not so funny to the deer trailing coils of plastic that can become wrapped around their legs and throats. In 2013, residents of Banff, Alberta, saw an elk trailing more than 15 feet of Christmas lights from his antlers, and in 2012, a deer in Eugene, Oregon was spotted with Christmas lights wrapped around its throat and head. In both cases, authorities tranquilized the animals and cut the lights off their bodies, and then advised residents to hang Christmas lights high up on their houses. Decorations that hang loosely on bushes and trees, or have loops or circles, can trap foraging animals who accidentally stick their heads through the loops and become ensnared.

Decorating our homes for the holidays should be a fun, enjoyable activity that doesn’t result in harm to the wild birds and creatures who share our communities. Choose decorations that don’t pose dangers to wildlife, and you—and our furry, feathered friends—will have much more to celebrate this holiday season.

Spread the word

If you see fake cobwebs used as decoration this Halloween, educate your neighbors about the dangers to birds and wildlife. Wildcare has a flyer you can print and put up in your neighborhood.

Who to call

If you find an entangled or injured bird or animal and you cannot safely free it on your own, call an expert immediately.

In Santa Cruz County:
Native Animal Rescue
(831) 462-0726

In Silicon Valley:
Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley
(408) 929-9453

Tai Moses is the author of 'Zooburbia: Meditations On The Wild Animals Among Us' (Parallax Press, 2014).