A man who smuggled nearly three dozen little birds stuffed in hair rollers hidden around his body at JFK Airport on Monday has been arrested and charged, officials said.
Thirty-five live finches were concealed inside the jacket and pant legs of 36-year-old Kevin Andre Mckenzie who had just arrived on a flight from Georgetown, Guyana, according to court documents. McKenzie told Customs agents that he was paid $500 to bring the birds to the U.S. and that he would be paid an additional $2,500 when he successfully exited Customs.
It's not the first time someone has attempted to smuggle the birds from Guyana into the U.S. and Kathryn McCabe, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained Tuesday why these birds were in demand.
Following an investigation, McCabe said people are using the finches to enter them in singing contests in Brooklyn and Queens.
"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," the agent wrote in the criminal complaint.
Participants would wager on the birds and the little song creatures become extremely valuable if they win, often selling for more than $10,000, McCabe said. While there are finch species in the U.S., the birds from Guyana are believed to sing better.
Just last month, authorities at JFK confiscated 29 finches from a traveler who had also just arrived from Georgetown. The man said he was heading to an address in New Jersey, but instead was given a $300 civil penalty and was placed on a flight back to Guyana.
Unlike Mckenzie, that man was not criminally charged, according to Customs and Border Protection.