Environment

South Florida bird poachers who snared more than 400 songbirds are sentenced to prison

Among the birds trafficked were screech owls, like this one pictured in 2017 at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, which rehabs injured birds.
Among the birds trafficked were screech owls, like this one pictured in 2017 at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, which rehabs injured birds. pportal@miamiherald.com

Three South Florida men who made up half of a sophisticated bird-smuggling operation will spend between six and 15 months in prison, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg announced this week.

The men, sentenced last month, were convicted of poaching more than 400 songbirds, using elaborate methods including solar-powered bird callers that led to sometimes brutal results. During a lengthy investigation by state and federal wildlife agencies, investigators found that the men often maimed the birds or left them tangled in nets. One smuggler nailed a loggerhead shrike, which he believed was hurting business, to a cross, investigators said.

Three remaining poachers, who pleaded guilty in April, await sentencing.

Over four years, the men spread out across the Everglades and other areas used by birds, installing bird callers and painting trees and other perches with sticky adhesive. During migrating season, they snared birds with mist nets often used by researchers. Some of the birds they trapped included grasshopper sparrows, buntings, hawks, screech owls, cardinals and house finches. The songbirds are sold on an international black market that supplies singing competitions popular in Asia and Cuba.

The three men sentenced include Juan Carlos ‘El Doctor’ Rodriguez, 54, to six months; Miguel Loureiro, 27, to nine months; and Hovary Muniz, 42, to 15 months.

About 130 of the rescued birds were released in Everglades National Park in April.

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich
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