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Bird bust unfolds at JFK

Bird bust unfolds at JFK
Survivor, a bull finch named after he recovered from several illnesses in Smokey Oval Park in Richmond Hill. Its owner brought the bird to meet up with dozens of other Guyanese finch owners on Sunday to allow the birds fresh air and see which has the most musical chirp.
Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

A Guyanese man’s bird-brained scheme fell apart when he stepped off his flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport in May and was caught allegedly sneaking some feathered friends into the country, according to authorities.

Marlon Hariram was arrested last week after an investigation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Ryan Bessey determined that he did not, in fact, have authority from the Guyanese government to transport the nine live finches he allegedly had stuffed up his shirt sleeves when he landed in Queens May 20, according to documents filed in Brooklyn federal court.

Bessey said Hariram failed to declare the animals upon arrival, which were discovered when he was pulled aside by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers.

“After further examination, it was discovered that the birds were individually packaged in toilet paper rolls, covered with netting and packaging tape and hidden in the sleeves of Hariram’s shirt,” Bessey wrote in the criminal complaint.

U.S. law prohibits someone from importing wildlife that has been taken illegally from foreign countries, and Guyana banned the exportation of its finches in 1919.

Guyanese finches are believed to be superior to their American brethren for their ability to carry a tune, and the special agent said there is a demand for the harmonizing fowl in Queens, where Guyanese immigrants enter them into singing contests.

“In such contests, often conducted in public areas like parks, two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice. Many who attend the singing contests place wagers on the birds,” he wrote. “A finch who wins many competitions becomes quite valuable, and can sell for in excess of $5,000.”

Bessey said that over the past several years customs officers at JFK have been catching people trying to sneak in finches, and Hariram had been fined for attempting to do so in 2005 and 2011.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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