A bird in the hand can be worth $10,000, and 35 finches in a JFK Airport traveler’s clothing landed him in trouble with the feds.
A Guyana man tried to smuggle the songbirds through customs Monday, hiding the pricey finches in hair curlers stashed in his suit jacket and wrapped around his ankles, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Kevin Andre McKenzie, 36, landed at JFK on a JetBlue flight, hoping the little birdies wouldn’t make a peep.
But a search turned them up anyway, and McKenzie was arrested. He told federal agents he was offered $3,000 to smuggle the birds — $500 up front, $2,500 on delivery, a federal criminal complaint alleges.
McKenzie was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court and released on a $25,000 bond.
Finches can sell for $10,000 a piece to interested buyers after they’re entered in songbird competitions in Brooklyn and Queens, the complaint lays out.
“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 $10,000,” the complaint reads.
Some of the finches compete in so-called “bird races,” where the winner is the first one to chirp 50 times, or chirp the most within a given time frame. Finches from the small South American country are considered to chirp faster than other finches.
Wildlife importers need a permit to bring animals into the U.S., and commercial birds need to be quarantined for 30 days to prevent the spread of disease.
In 2019, Francis Gurahoo, a janitor from Connecticut, also tried to smuggle 34 finches into JFK from Guyana. He pleaded guilty in 2020, and could face two years behind bars at his June sentencing.