US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at JFK airport discovered 70 live finches stowed in a passenger’s hand luggage.
The tiny birds had been individually squashed into orange and green hair rollers before being stashed in the New York-bound passenger’s black duffel bag.
Airport officials identified the animals after stopping the South American passenger, who was travelling from Georgetown, Guyana, to check his bag on 8 December.
The passenger evaded arrest and was returned to his home country.
According to reports, the birds were subsequently seized, quarantined and transferred to the Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services to undergo further examination.
In addition to welfare checks, concerns were raised about potential diseases that the birds may have been carrying.
In a statement published on the US CBP website, Troy Miller, the CBP director of New York field operations, said: “CBP Agriculture Specialists are the first line of defence to prevent the introduction of animal diseases that have the potential to cause significant damage to the nation’s agricultural economy.”
Attention was also drawn to bird flu, a 2015 outbreak of which resulted in the destruction of 50 million commercial turkeys and chicken in the US, costing $850 million in damages.
This isn’t the first time that these birds have been transported in this manner.
Two men were arrested at JFK in April this year after smuggling 26 finches in hair curlers and stuffing them into socks.
Gabriel Harper of the US Fish and Wildlife Service said that the birds are used in singing competitions, where winning birds can be traded for $5,000 or more.
“My investigation has revealed that individuals keep finches to enter them in singing contests,” he said.
“In such contests, often conducted in public areas like parks, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice.”
“Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after,” Harper added.
“An individual willing to smuggle finches into the United States from Guyana can earn a large profit by selling these birds in the New York area.”
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