A man was arrested at JFK Airport on Monday after authorities discovered he had 35 live finches concealed inside plastic hair curlers that he had smuggled from Guyana and intended to use in singing competitions in Brooklyn and Queens.
Fox News reported that “Kevin Andre McKenzie is just the latest alleged would-be songbird smuggler busted using the hair-accessory method to bring in the coveted creatures.” McKenzie was caught with the birds, each stuffed inside an individual roller with a mesh cloth covering the sides and then concealed inside his clothing.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol intercepted McKenzie after he deplaned from his flight from Georgetown, Guyana, Fox reported. He allegedly told authorities that he had been offered $3,000 to smuggle the birds.
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He was charged with the illegal importation of wildlife and was released on a $25,000 bond, authorities said. If convicted, McKenzie faces up to 20 years in prison.
Although there are American finches, the Guyanese variety is more desired for the singing competitions, which can involve steep wagers, the feds 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,” the complaint states. “A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for more than $10,000.”
In 2015, The New York Times ran a story about the singing competitions, which take place on Sundays in Brooklyn and Queens.
“Sundays are race days, though the events are not really races but speed-singing contests. Two cages each containing a male finch, whose fierce calls are triggered by an instinctive desire to woo females and defend turf, are hung on a pole about an inch apart. The birds are judged on the number of songs they sing. The first to reach 50 wins,” the Times reported.
Winning birds can be as worth as much as a car, the outlet reported, adding that even “well-known soccer players have acquired them as status symbols.” The sport also “has a seedy side,” the Times noted, revealing that CBP has regularly charged people who smuggle the birds into the U.S.
“Customs agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport began uncovering birds zipped into suitcase linings, sometimes stuffed in toilet paper rolls, or tucked inside socks, pantyhose, or specially tailored pants. The discoveries prompted agents at the United StatesFish [sic] and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement to start what would become an eight-year investigation, nicknamed Operation G-Bird, that focused on the illegal smuggling of these prized competitors,” the outlet reported.
Fox News noted that many people have been busted for smuggling the birds.
“Earlier this month, a 26-year-old from Guyana was also busted at JFK with 29 live birds stuffed inside pink and orange plastic rollers,” the outlet reported. “Another birdbrain tried to smuggle 70 finches hidden in orange hair curlers inside a black duffle bag in 2018. A year later, a Connecticut man arrived at JFK from the Caribbean country, with 32 live songbirds that he said he planned to sell for $3,000 each.”