Man busted at JFK attempting to smuggle in South American songbirds for local singing contests

Photos courtesy of U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York

A Connecticut man was busted at JFK International Airport Sunday for allegedly attempting to smuggle a bunch of tiny birds into the U.S.

Francis Gurahoo, 39, was arrested after his flight from Guyana after he was selected for a customs examination, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The search revealed Gurahoo possessed 34 live finches were concealed in his carry-on luggage, with each tiny bird hidden inside a plastic hair curler, according to the criminal complaint.

Finches are small seed-eating birds that have become popular at singing contests in Queens and Brooklyn, according to an investigator from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 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 wager on the birds. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for more than $5,000, according to the criminal complaint.

Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more highly sought after and an individual willing to smuggle finches into the U.S. from Guyana can earn a large profit by selling the birds in the New York area.

Federal agents said that Gurahoo had signed a Customs and Border Protection declaration that stated that he was entering the U.S. without any wildlife, he was then selected for a customs examination that revealed the tiny songbirds.

Gurahoo allegedly admitted that he had intended to smuggle the finches into the country and to avoid quarantine by placing the birds inside his carry-on luggage, prosecutors noted. The defendant then stated he intended to sell the finches for around $3,000 each for a total of approximately $100,000.

According to the criminal complaint, Gurahoo further stated that he knew that what he did was wrong but he was motivated by financial gain.

Searches of the USFWS databases revealed that Gurahoo did not apply for or receive a permit authorizing the importation of the birds into the United States.

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