Take a look at this photo: It shows a large two-tiered cage known as a Swedish goshawk trap. Two birds sit inside, separated by a wire floor: a Cooper’s Hawk above and a pigeon (the bait) below. The image is the least stomach-turning of several I received recently. They document an outrage.
As you can read in "Birding Briefs" in our February 2008 issue, a pigeon breeder’s club in California, Oregon, and other states has been killing thousands of hawks and falcons a year in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act — and bragging about it. An undercover investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revealed the killings. We didn't receive the photos in time to run them in the magazine, so I'm sharing them here.
FWS agents discovered the hawk above at the home of a pigeon breeder in Houston. When they approached the house, the breeder’s wife attempted to hide the bird by throwing blankets over the trap — the same blankets visible in the picture. The agents photographed the scene, then freed the bird.
Through the chain-link fence here you can see the backyard of defendant Juan Navarro’s home in Los Angeles. A trap sits on the ground. Inside it is a Cooper’s Hawk. Navarro was president of the National Birmingham Roller Club (NBRC) when he was arrested in May. He has since pleaded guilty to 16 counts of violating or attempting to violate the MBTA.
Special agent Ed Newcomer also sent me a photo of a dead Cooper’s Hawk recovered from Navarro’s property as well as an image of a severed talon. Defendant Rayvon Hall gave the talon to an undercover agent as a “souvenir” during the investigation. Another defendant, Darik McGhee, bragged that he once had a five-gallon bucket filled with severed talons. When asked why he didn't have it anymore, he responded: "You don't want to keep evidence at your house."
Here's a picture of a Swedish goshawk trap that isn't covered with blankets. The device may be used for legitimate research by scientists, but anyone who owns one must have a permit. (The defendants identified in the investigation did not.) If you know of or see a raptor trap like this one, please call your local FWS office.
I spoke with Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Audubon Society of Portland, and Garry George, executive director of the Los Angeles Audubon Society. They praised the FWS special agents who busted the pigeon fanciers. But neither they nor the FWS agents I interviewed had a good estimate of how many people may have been trapping and killing hawks. And despite the local publicity and outrage, none of my sources felt confident that the atrocities have been stopped. Because many of the people arrested and charged were leaders of the NBRC or affiliated clubs, Sallinger said that the known cases are “the tip of the iceberg.”
David Patte, an FWS spokesman in Oregon, told me that an undercover agent in his office began his investigation by calling a local pigeon breeder. The agent, Patte said, gave the breeder a line about wanting to get into racing roller pigeons. The first statement the guy made in response, Patte said, was "You're going to have to learn how to kill hawks — and love it." — M.M.