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Man nabbed at JFK Airport with 35 birds hidden in his clothing, officials say

Kevin Andre McKenzie, 36, of Guyana, was trying to smuggle the birds into the United States for "singing contests" in New York City, according to a federal complaint.
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A man was arrested in New York City on Monday after authorities found 35 live songbirds stuffed inside hair curlers attached to his clothing, prosecutors said.

Kevin Andre McKenzie, 36, of Guyana, flew from his home country to John F. Kennedy International Airport hoping not to make a peep. But a search by Border Patrol agents revealed he was unlawfully carrying nearly three dozen finches that were concealed in the small cylindrical containers with perforated netting covers, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Photos showed the tiny birds stuffed inside the hair curlers that were attached to his jacket and encircling his ankles. McKenzie told federal agents that he was offered $500 upfront, and another $2,500 upon delivery of the smuggled birds, according to the complaint.

Image: Smuggled birds
A row of tiny finches stuffed inside hair curlers that were attached to the man's jacket.US Attorney's Office

He was arraigned in a federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday and released on $25,000 bond, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

James Darrow, McKenzie's attorney, declined to comment Wednesday.

Investigators found that the tiny finches can sell for $10,000 each after entering and winning "singing contests" in Brooklyn and Queens, the complaint said.

"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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote in the complaint. "Many who attend the singing contests wager on the birds."

Songbirds from Guyana are believed to "sing better and are therefore more valuable," she said.

Image: Smuggled birds
Tiny finches from Guyana stuffed inside hair curlers with perforated netting covers.US Attorney's Office

Wildlife importers are required to secure a valid permit to transport animals into the country. Commercial birds are also required to be quarantined for 30 days to prevent the spread of disease, according to the complaint.

In 2019, another man was arrested after trying to smuggle 34 finches from Guyana into the JFK Airport. And in 2018, two other men were caught trying to smuggle 26 songbirds of the same species at the same airport.