"High Rollers" Arrested for Raptor Killings

Illegal Trapping of Hawks and Falcons Spurs Efforts To Strengthen Migratory Bird Treaty Act


An ongoing investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (www.fws.gov/pacific/highroller) has uncovered thousands of illegal raptor killings in Oregon, California, Washington, New Mexico, Texas, and other states, and has led to calls for stiffer penalties for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


"Operation High Roller", a 14-month investigation into roller pigeon clubs, discovered that some club members trapped and killed raptors, specifically Cooper's and Red-tailed Hawks, and Peregrine Falcons. Investigators estimated that leaders and members of such clubs in the Los Angeles metropolitan area alone are responsible for killing 1,000 to 2,000 raptors per year.


Roller pigeons are an English breed, with a genetic trait which causes them to have mini-seizures during flight. The seizure causes them briefly to go into a quick head-over-tail spiral. These erratic movements, while prized by pigeon breeders, mimic the actions of a sick or wounded bird, and quickly attract raptors.


On repeated instances, undercover agents observed roller pigeon fanciers in Los Angeles trapping Cooper's hawks. According to the agent's affidavit, many of the club members openly discussed trapping, shooting and poisoning hawks and falcons. FWS agents report that the same type of trap found in the California investigation has also been used to catch and kill raptors in many other states around the country.


As a result of the investigation, federal authorities made seven arrests in California, and charged others in Oregon and Texas for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which specifies that the trapping or killing of any birds of prey without a federal permit is against the law.

Unfortunately sentencings in these cases have so far been relatively light, since these crimes are considered only as misdemeanor violations of the Act.


Public outrage over light sentencing decisions in the Oregon cases led U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) to introduce a bill recently to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to make intentional killing of protected birds a felony.


The Audubon Society of Portland, a Bird Conservation Alliance member, is supporting Rep. DeFazio's amendment, and will be working to build a national coalition of groups to support this legislation.


For more information and see how you can help, visit www.audubonportland.org/conservation_advocacy/mbta/index_html


Photos: Top - Red-tailed Hawk, Bottom - Cooper's Hawk by USFWS