Illegal Bird Trapping

A Letter from Fish and Wildlife

The problem of the illegal trapping and subsequent selling of migratory birds in South Florida is rampant. The two main targeted species are Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea) and Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris). However, other more common Migratory birds have been trapped including Cardinals, Orioles and others. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act prohibits, among other things, possessing or killing any migratory bird. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regularly finds and appropriately cites those that choose to engage in this trade. We need your help to preserve these National treasures. Past cases have shown a number of common traits. Combining what we know about the subjects with what we know about the migratory habits of the species in question will enable us to effectively combat this problem. A few years ago the FWC and USFWS broke up a large ring of trappers and dealers leading to multiple arrests and thousands in penalties. All current data suggests the trappers are back. The goal of this enforcement effort is to break up these rings and free the captive birds into their natural habitats to proliferate and continue the species.

Numerous subjects or defendants, stated in sworn statements, they trap for cash. A good specimen in either species can fetch upwards of $200, with the highest money paid for a nicely feathered male Painted Bunting. Typically a female of either species will see $20-$45 dollars including a cage. The birds are openly sold in Flea Markets, gas stations and other high pedestrian traffic areas. The problem here is evident as individuals of the already declining population are taken out of the breeding loop for as long as they are captive. Unfortunately it is extremely difficult for the lay-person to successfully breed buntings and IF viable eggs are hatched the off-spring are born into captivity anyway to be sold or kept in the breeders “collection.”

Reporting Traps

We as Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers are faced with an enormous problem as we are notoriously understaffed. Additionally, possessing a protected bird is a misdemeanor and a sworn law enforcement officer, by law, must witness the possession. Roughly translated, I cannot arrest a subject based solely upon what you saw. However, using what we know of the trade bringing large amounts of cash for a few hours work, the trapper will return, especially if he or she was successful in a particular area. In short, if while enjoying your passion for bird watching you find a large congregation of Buntings or other colorful birds send one of us an email so we can return later and thoroughly search the area and include the area on our “Areas to Watch” list. If you happen to find a trap in the woods or brush, please call immediately and an Officer will respond to begin the surveillance. A word of caution, the trappers know that what they are doing is wrong so they are very suspicious by nature. Hanging around the trap or making it obvious that you know the trap is present may scare the individual away and we may “lose” this area for awhile. If you are able to see an individual with a trap in hand and you see his or her vehicle, attempt to get a license plate number and description of the individual. Most birders carry binoculars and/or cameras, some of you carry very nice cameras and getting a good photo from a long way off is not impossible. Remember, your safety is more important than any bird so absolutely do not confront the subject.

[Bunting Trap] The photo shows a good example of a trap. In the past we have found some common traits that we use to find the traps. These tips are only guidelines and not set in stone. The traps are usually placed 2-5 feet off of the ground. They don't use ladders and birds roost off of the ground to avoid predators. The birds seek safety in brushy corridors. We have found that corridors with a North-South orientation have more success than East-West. The Buntings like Lantana and the trappers know this, so be especially vigilant around brushy corridors containing Lantana. For those that are not familiar with Lantana, you can search Lantana on your favorite search engine or at your local library for a picture. Next, the trappers rarely leave their traps unattended. If you happen to spot a trap or traps remember the trapper is more than likely close by. Keep your safety in mind and do not confront the subject. Remember the location i.e. street and avenue and make the call. Additionally, most of the traps will have a bait bird in it to attract another bird. Females attract males and other females and males attract females. The traps are usually homemade and appear extremely time-consuming to construct which also supports the information of trappers not leaving their traps unattended. Lastly, don't hesitate to call, don't feel silly if you call us to what turns out to be a false alarm. Remember, this is our job and all of us have a passion to protect the wildlife.

FWS Contact Information

Captain Alfredo Escanio

Special Agent David Pharo (US Fish and Wildlife)

Investigator Andy Carcasses (Florida Fish and Wildlife)