On December 8, 2018, U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agriculture Specialists at John F. Kennedy International Airport stopped an arriving passenger on a flight from Georgetown, Guyana. During the course of the inspection, CBP discovered 70 live finches concealed within hair rollers in a black duffel bag.
“CBP Agriculture Specialists are the first line of defense to prevent the introduction of animal diseases that have the potential to cause significant damage to the Nation’s agricultural economy,” said Troy Miller, Director, Field Operations, New York Field Office.
A 2015 outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in the U.S., commonly known as bird flu, resulted in the culling of 50 million commercial turkeys and chickens and $850 million in damages.
The finches were detained under quarantine and turned over to United States Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services.
So why would someone bring these birds into the United States?
A spokesperson told Gothamist "that some people like to gamble on the birds, betting on how many chirps they'll chirp in a minute. The NY Times has previously reported on these 'speed singing contests,' which pit finch against finch in a high-stakes competition to see who can sing 50 songs fastest. Competitors can be worth anywhere from $500 to $10,000, according to the Times, and considering the lucrative nature of the trade, illegal bird busts are not exactly a rarity for JFK customs agents. According to the Times, finches have been found 'zipped into suitcase linings, sometimes stuffed in toilet paper rolls, or tucked inside socks, pantyhose, or specially tailored pants'"
Sadly, all of the birds had to be euthanized, and the man was sent back to Guyana.