A Connecticut man pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court Thursday to smuggling tiny birds through JFK International Airport last spring.
Francis Gurahoo, 39, pleaded guilty to smuggling 34 finches into the United States after he 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 hid the birds concealed in his carry-on luggage, with each finch 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 —which are often conducted in public areas, such as parks — two finches sing and a judge selects the bird determined to have the best voice.
Immigrants from Guyana, Suriname, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago attend the singing contests and wager on the birds. A finch that wins one of 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, and Trinidad and Tobago, where a finch could sell for upwards of $20,000, 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.
JFK airport has become something of a transit hub for bird smugglers that agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched Operation G-Bird more than a decade ago.
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 in his luggage.
Gurahoo will be sentenced on June 17. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he could face between two years and 33 month in jail.