Hit “share” for native songbirds
When you think about wildlife trafficking, the first thing that probably pops into your head is elephant ivory or rhino horns. Maybe even tiger pelts and bones or exotic parrots and reptiles offered as unique and eye-catching pets. Overall, you most likely think of wildlife trafficking as something that happens “out there” in other towns, cities, and countries. Unfortunately, the truth is that wildlife trafficking impacts all types of animal populations all over the world, including native species found right here in the United States. Of all of these trafficked populations, one in particular seems to be the least talked about but perhaps one of the most important: North American migratory songbirds.
There are about 200 species of Neotropical migratory birds that spend their breeding season in the U.S. and Canada, then make their way down to Mexico and Central America to wait out the winter. These species can travel from a few hundred miles to thousands of miles during their journeys every year but will take a few pit stops along the way. One of these common pitstops is the warm sunny state of Florida. Unfortunately, it’s not just the birds that know how to take advantage of the mild weather in Florida, but also an underground community of illegal songbird traffickers. The U.S Fish and Wildlife service has been investigating the underground market of songbird trapping since 2000, but in 2012, began one of their biggest operations, dubbed “Operation Ornery Bird.” From 2012 until 2018, undercover U.S Fish and Wildlife agents seized nearly 400 birds and exposed a large web of illegal songbird merchants and buyers in southern Florida. The birds seized at these markets were destined for the pet trade or to be used in singing competitions that are popular in the Caribbean and other countries. The species most targeted are therefore some of the most colorful North American songbirds and include painted buntings, indigo buntings, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Luckily, many of the birds seized during Operation Ornery Bird were able to be released. and on April 14 of 2018, the U.S Fish and Wildlife service released a final 130 confiscated birds from the undercover operation.
Although Operation Ornery Bird has been concluded, illegal songbird trafficking is still present and continues to pose a threat to our native songbird populations. You may be asking yourself: how can I help? Well, I’m happy to tell you that reading this blog was one of the first steps! Spreading awareness about wildlife trafficking occurring right here in the U.S. is an action anyone can take to help protect our native species and ensure that they are here for generations to come. So go ahead and hit that share button and start fighting for native songbirds today!
(photo: Katherine B)
Katherine B., Bird Team