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Feds charge six Florida men with trafficking over 400 migratory birds

Painted Bunting. Photo by Igor Perezh

Over the years, we’ve reported on all sorts of threats to birds, and while they’re all quite real, stories about habitat loss, climate change, feral cats, windows, and the like almost always look at the problem from high overhead. Which species are affected, where is the threat located, how can it be fixed, etc.…? The instigators of the threat in question are rarely specific people, and so we refer to them in general terms: this or that industry, irresponsible pet owners, etc.

It’s not as common for conservation stories to be about specific people who committed awful, sometimes unthinkable acts, against individual birds. Sadly, this story is about just such a situation.

In mid-April, Benjamin Greenberg, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, charged six Florida men with trafficking in more than 400 migratory birds. The details of the cases are disturbing. According to a Justice Department press release:

“Working independently and separately from each other, these six charged defendants used sophisticated methods to traffic protected wildlife, specifically migratory birds. The methods included bird traps augmented by electronic birdcall broadcast systems powered with solar panels and rechargeable batteries; baited bird traps spread throughout the region as collection points; the erection of mist nets at one end of a field during migration season and the operation of a truck from the other end of the field to flush hundreds of migratory birds into the mist nets; the strategic deployment of specially formulated adhesives to glue migratory birds to tree limbs and sticks; and the hunting of migratory birds, in particular the illegal hunting of raptors with rifles. They also used traditional smuggling techniques to unlawfully transport the captured wildlife. These techniques included the shipment of migratory birds to buyers across the country in boxes with hidden compartments; the use of a false name and address on airmail shipments; false statements on customs declarations; and the concealment of the protected wildlife in hair curlers taped to a defendant’s body, beneath baggy pants.

“In some instances, the wildlife trafficking in these cases involved severe animal cruelty and resulted in injury to the birds. Some of the trafficked birds showed signs of having sustained injuries while attempting to flee captivity. Some of the birds, specifically some of the hawks, were actually dead at the time of sale and other birds died shortly after purchase. One defendant left the captured birds entangled in netting, where they were preyed upon by wild dogs and cats. Another defendant maimed some of the migratory birds by ripping out their tail feathers. A third defendant, believing that a Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) was a threat to his inventory of migratory birds for sale, threw the animal against a wall and affixed it to a wooden cross. The defendant filmed this activity and uploaded the images onto a private internet chat group that he used to advertise migratory birds for sale.”


The birds the men allegedly trafficked include:
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Gray Catbird
Puerto Rican Bullfinch
Cuban Bullfinch
Puerto Rican Spindalis
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Clay-colored Sparrow
Grasshopper Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Summer Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Blue Grosbeak
Painted Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Lazuli Bunting
screech-owls (species not identified)

After the charges were announced, federal wildlife officials released about 130 of the birds at Everglades National Park. Spokespeople for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the park could not comment on other aspects of the cases, including the fates of the other 270 individual birds. The defendants each face multiple charges, and if convicted, they could serve two to five years in prison for each count. — Matt Mendenhall, Editor

Video: release of the trafficked birds


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