Man Charged with Smuggling 35 Singing Birds Stuffed in Hair Rollers into N.Y.C, Officials Say

Vanessa Etienne
·2 min read

US Attorney's Office Eastern District of NY

A man was arrested Monday after allegedly smuggling nearly three dozen live finches from Georgetown, Guyana, into a New York airport.

According to a complaint from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York obtained by CNN, custom officials allegedly found 35 live finches stuffed inside hair rollers that were sealed with netting during a search of Kevin Andre McKenzie's belongings at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The 36-year-old Guyanese resident allegedly took a JetBlue flight from Guyana to N.Y.C with the finch-filled hair rollers attached to the inside of his suit jacket and around his ankles.

CBS reports that officials said McKenzie told them that he was offered $3,000 to smuggle the songbirds into the United States for a singing competition. He allegedly received $500 before his flight and planned to receive the additional $2500 after making it through customs.

According to CNN, an U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York's investigation into the alleged songbird smuggling found that these finches are typically entered in singing contests in Brooklyn and Queens, New York.

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"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," Kathryn McCabe, a special agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service involved in the investigation, stated in the written complaint. "Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds. A finch who wins these competitions becomes valuable and can sell for more than $10,000. Although certain species of finch are available in the United States, species from Guyana are believed to sing better and are therefore more valuable."

US Attorney's Office Eastern District of NY

It's not the first time someone has tried to smuggle birds into the U.S. from Guyana, reports NBC New York. Last month, JFK authorities confiscated 29 finches from a traveler from Guyana who was released with a $300 civil penalty. Another man tried to smuggle 34 Guyanese finches into JFK in 2019. He pleaded guilty and is facing a possible two years in prison at his upcoming sentencing.

Following Monday's arrest, McKenzie was charged and released on a $25,000 bond.