By Carolyn Holtzman
Daria Feinstein wakes up every morning and awaits the arrival of three blue-and-gold macaws at the feeders in her backyard in Gables Estates.
“I used to have like 11 or 12 come,” Feinstein said. “Now it’s just a pair and later a single macaw.”
According to Feinstein, the population of local macaws is declining due to illegal bird poaching throughout South Florida.
“Dealers come down from the North this time of year when parrots have chicks in the nest,” she said.
Feinstein and other members of the Bird Lovers Club, a South Florida nonprofit organization, are working to stop poaching of macaws and other parrots in the area.
Bird Lovers Club President Terry Denton says the best way to stop the poaching is to raise awareness of the problem.
“I feel that’s what our job is … to sit with city, county and state officials and tell them what’s going on,” Denton said. “If people were doing this to dogs or cats, so many people would be up in arms.”
Florida’s current bird protection law, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, states that it is unlawful to capture, kill, or sell any migratory bird or their eggs in the United States. It is limited, however, to migratory birds that are “native to the United States or its territories.” Most parrots in South Florida, including the blue-and-gold macaws found in Coral Gables, are not native to the U.S.; therefore, they are not protected in Florida.
Birds are also protected if they are on the endangered species list, says Paul Reillo, a member of the board of directors of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee, Florida.
There are no endangered parrot species in Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife’s List of Endangered Species.
Because these parrots are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act nor by endangered species laws, it is technically legal to capture them.
According to FWC spokesperson Liz Barraco, poaching non-native birds is legal if they are caught in the wild or with landowner permission and captured using humane methods.
“If they have a class 3 permit and are capturing [the birds\ legally, they have a right to sell,” Barraco said.
Denton says she wants more protection for these parrots from poachers who sell the baby birds to pet stores.
“It really comes down to common sense,” Denton said. “Why with all of the reputable breeders in the area, would you feel it necessary to climb a tree and take babies out of it? I understand the monetary value, but it’s just ethically wrong.”
The Bird Lovers Club, comprised of 2,466 members across the United States, protests the poaching of local parrots because of the harm done to the birds by poachers’ net guns.
“These net guns are horribly effective and cruel, often breaking the birds feet when they plummet to the ground,” Feinstein said in an email.
Denton says poachers are successful because they disguise themselves.
“You’ll think it’s the utility truck, and they’ll go grab the babies and be off,” she said. “They sell them for $25 per baby, which are then sold in pet stores for $400 to $500. It’s very profitable.”
According to Denton, if birds are injured while being captured by poachers, they are usually left to die because they no longer have monetary value. The Bird Lovers Club recently put out a poster offering a reward for any information that could lead them to the injured birds.
“We’re basically creating awareness to make it stop,” Denton said.
Reillo, of the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, says the best way to protect these birds is through the formation of a bird sanctuary.
“[A bird sanctuary\ means that no avian species can be taken or exploited or disturbed,” Reillo said. “That is an ordinance that can be passed at a low level by a town council. That is the most immediate short term and grass roots appeal that could be made.”
Denton says at the least, she hopes their message reaches the poachers themselves.
“We know that the word is getting out,” Denton said. “With any hope, we can try to get an understanding through these poachers that enough is enough, and that we’re not going to stand to it.”