They captured, smuggled, sold, even crucified rare birds. Here’s what happens next

An Indigo Bunting in the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa
An Indigo Bunting in the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Iowa

A flock of South Florida bird poachers, indicted from August to March for smuggling and selling rare birds, is finding out how long its members will be jailbirds.

On Monday, “El Doctor,” 54-year-old Miami-Dade resident Juan Carlos Rodriguez, was scheduled to be sentenced. He pleaded guilty to three counts of taking, killing, or possessing migratory birds.

Last Monday, Miami’s Hovary Muniz, 41, got 15 months for knowingly selling and offering for sale migratory birds. That sentence will run concurrent with Muniz’s time for violating probation after getting caught in 2016 coming back from Cuba with five Cuban Melodious Finches, a Cuban Bullfinch, a Yellow-faced Grassquit, an Indigo Bunting, and a Blue Grosbeak. A Customs and Border Protection pat-down discovered them in tubes in Muniz’s underwear and a fanny pack.

Alberto Iran Corbo Martinez, 38, already did his three months in prison and is working on 12 months of supervised release for smuggling goods into the United States and producing a false document. On Aug. 10, Miguel Loureiro will be sentenced for taking migratory birds with intent to sell or barter, and Carlos Hernandez will be sentenced on Aug. 17 for taking migratory birds.

Like with drugs, South Florida is a smuggler’s paradise when it comes to native and migrating birds.

According to court records, Juan Carlos Rodriguez sold a total of 181 birds to an undercover special agent for $10,715. The special agent also saw Rodriguez use “mist nets” to catch birds.

“Mist nets are soft, pliable nets that trap birds and are used for scientific research,” the court document explains. “Current scientific literature suggests that appropriate use of mist nets does not harm birds. Appropriate usage involves monitoring the nets and removing entangled birds quickly and carefully after they become entangled.”

Rodriguez didn’t show such care.

“Rodriguez stated he goes to sugar cane fields and sunflower fields and sets up a net across the entire field,” the court records say. “He then drives the birds into a net using a truck. He stated that the year before, he and two other individuals went to a Geld and captured 203 Indigo Buntings, countless Painted Buntings, and other birds in their nets. He stated that they stuffed the birds into feedbags Iike sardines in a can and drove them to Rodriguez’s house. He stated that many birds were lost to wild dogs and cats before they could remove the birds from their mist nets.”

As another trapping method, he used pega, a Krazy Glue-like substance that Rodriguez would put on a limestick. He said he used WD-40 to remove pega-stuck Bobolinks from the limesticks.

Social media, such as a Facebook group titled Palomeros de Miami (Pigeon houses of Miami), provided a free advertising vehicle and audience for the abusers. Loureiro’s admission of facts describes videos that he shot apparently for showing off and amusement.

“On one occasion, he filmed himself forcefully throwing a Loggerhead Strike against a sturdy wooden fence twice,” court records say. “Loggerhead Strikes are carnivorous migratory birds and Loureiro feared the bird was a threat to his stock of captured commercial migratory birds.

“He posted videos in the internet chat group, then further posted pictures of a Loggerhead Strike crucified on a wooden cross with a sign that read Por Comer Pajaros (for eating birds).”