First Rule Of Pigeon Club… (UPDATED)

http://blogging.la/archives/images/2007/05/hawk-thumb.jpgThe day after I photographed this big-eyed beauty perched in a tree next door to my Silver Lake yard (click to biggify), word of this story reaches me. As if I need more proof that humans suck supreme, authorities have charged a ring of seven southland men belonging to “pigeon clubs” with killing untold numbers of falcons and hawks annually, all to protect their preciously inbred Birmingham Roller pigeons that they raise and keep for use in bird races.

From the cb2.com website:

The charges stem from an investigation in which a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent infiltrated several California pigeon clubs, leading investigators to estimate that organizations in the Los Angeles area alone are behind the killing of 1,000 to 2,000 raptors each year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The pigeon enthusiasts, who raise and fly a special type of the bird that “rolls” mid-flight and therefore is especially prone to attracting predators, would allegedly use backyard traps to snare Cooper’s hawks, which hunt on the ground. They then used sticks or pellet guns to kill the hawks, according to prosecutors.

At other times, they would shoot Peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks out of the air above their backyards with shotguns or rifles, authorities say.

One of the suspects has been identified as Juan Navarro of Los Feliz, the president of the National Birmingham Roller Club (NBRC). A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service undercover agent contends Navarro claimed that he killed one raptor a week and had a five-gallon bucket filled with the talons of hawks he slaughtered.

What an alleged bastard motherfucker.

Ironically on the NBRC website is a “President’s Memo” from March that Navarro opens with this:

“For many of us, we have had to curtail the flying of our rollers due to predator issues during the fall and winter months. I personally am now limited to flying five months out of the year. Keeping the birds locked down for seven months is not a lot of fun, but it has become a way of life in the area that I fly in.”

Or a way of death.

UPDATED (5/25): After the jump you’ll find some of the various pigeon club members’ message board and newsletter goings-on in regards to raptors.

So I was searching around the NBRC website to find they’ve circled the wagons and shutdown any opportunity to contact them:

“As you may have probably heard in recent news, several members of the NBRC are being investigated for alleged violations of the migratory species act. The NBRC does not condone nor promote such activities and as such cannot comment on the actions of these individuals. We hold true to the ideals of due process before making judgements and as such will not speculate any further on the matter.

Due to the recent flood of messages regarding this news, we have had to shut down this part of our website until the matter is resolved. If you are a member and need to contact anyone for additional assistance, please find the email of the person in the latest NBRC Bulletin. Thank You.”

So I went snooping around via whois and Google and such — nothing fancy — and found my way into various club websites’ message boards and newsletters where I scanned some of the topics and found the following comments about how certain members “deal” with raptors.

1) On the NBRC message board “Roland” of Lakewood, Calif., writes Feb. 12, 2007: “The falcon that was taking my birds will no longer take them any more, I’m 150% sure of that. Maybe another one will come for a short time only.” He closes with an evil looking emoticon.

2) It’s pretty tame with only a hint or two implying harm to raptors but here’s an article by suspect Juan Navarro on the Birmingham Rollers of Austin website providing details and insight on how he and his birds were devastated by raptors after moving to Los Feliz and what he’s done to adapt.

3) My favorite one. The Southern California Rollers Association website still has its March 1999 newsletter online whose lead item is headlined: “Predator Attacks Spoil Spring in L.A.,” and which closes with the following:

Fanciers have been able to trap some Coopers Hawks using wire traps, but the only defense against the falcons have been “heavy artillery” (if you know what I mean). On one visit to a fancier’s loft, I felt as if I was in Vietnam as he fired several shots into the air trying to hit a falcon that was ripping his kit apart.

Walking near his loft, one could trip over the piles of bullet shells spread throughout the yard.

For those of you who are flying “Predator-Free”, please keep your Los Angels colleagues in your prayers and enjoy your kit… “You don’t know how good you’ve got it, until it’s gone.”

12 Replies to “First Rule Of Pigeon Club… (UPDATED)”

  1. Great, now on top of the 18th Street Gang, the Venice 13, the Rollin’ ’20s Crips and so on, we have to worry about gangs of pigeon racing enthusiasts?!

  2. Of all the shortsighted, cranially vacant, wimpy POS people… well, I’ll stop right there. This could go on a while…

    When this so-called human race of ours has succeeded in ridding the planet of everything that isn’t made like us, we’ll likely start in on everyone who doesn’t look like us.

    Oh, wait, we’ve already gotten into that a whole bunch of times….

    It’s really quite dangerous for a species to outstrip the cababilities of those that keep it in check through predation.

    When I was back in high school there was a guy that used to brag about shooting everything that moved just for his sick little thrill. When he got hit by a car and killed, literally nobody in town said or did anything about a “memorial”, which is unusual for kids that age. Maybe the 5 gallon bucket of talons guy…

    Well, it’s not realy cool to wish evil on anyone, but hey. That’s one worthless fuck of a human being if you ask me.

  3. PRESS RELEASE AND POSITION STATEMENT

    NATIONAL BIRMINGHAM ROLLER CLUB; May 28, 2007

    The Roller pigeon is a unique breed of pigeon that has been cultivated for centuries for its ability to tumble and “roll” while flying in flocks of ten to thirty birds, several hundred feet above their homes. Thousands of roller fanciers across the United States enjoy breeding and flying these beautiful birds as a backyard family hobby.

    Recently, we were dismayed to learn that eleven Roller pigeon enthusiasts were arrested in Los Angeles, California and in Portland, Oregon by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, as part of a costly 14-month “sting” operation. These individuals are charged with trapping and sometimes killing protected Cooper’s Hawks which were attacking and killing their pigeons.

    The National Birmingham Roller Club’s position has always been one of not condoning or promoting the harassment, capture, or killing of birds of prey for any reason. The NBRC in no way endorses or supports any activity that would cause stress, injury, or death to any bird of prey. If it should eventually be proven that any members of the NBRC have been found to have engaged in such activity, we state emphatically that such behavior was not with the consent, knowledge, or approval of the NBRC. Until proven guilty, these individuals are presumed innocent, despite the inappropriate and grossly exaggerated comments of spokespersons for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which sought to tar thousands of roller fanciers by reason of the unfortunate allegations against less than a dozen individuals.

    Predation by hawks has become a part of life not only for Roller pigeon enthusiasts, but also racing pigeon enthusiasts, game breeders, commercial hatcheries, and any other business or hobby that exposes domestic birds to elements of the wild. Contrary to what some may have been led to believe, Cooper’s Hawks are now to be found in abundance across the United States. They have become relentless in their pursuit of prey not only in rural and remote regions but even in major metropolitan cities.

    We reject the exaggerated and insulting comments of one U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson who claimed that Birmingham Rollers have a genetic “defect.” These pigeons have a unique genetic trait which has enabled them to serve as pets and as a wholesome backyard hobby for tens of thousands of men and women over the last century. The fact that they may not be suited to living in the wild does not render them defective or unworthy of protection, any more so than most dog breeds should be considered defective or worthy of elimination because they are not suited to survival in the wild.

    These pigeons’ tumbling behavior is not the reason they are attacked by Cooper’s Hawks. For the most part, these pigeons do not begin tumbling until they are several months old, yet juvenile pigeons are regularly killed by hawks. Cooper’s Hawks typically attack these pigeons when they alight from exercise on their home roof, not when they are performing high in the air. The numbers of racing pigeons likewise being killed rises every year, yet racing pigeons do not tumble or roll. Many pigeon fanciers lose dozens of their pets every year to the Cooper’s Hawk or, to a much lesser extent, to the Red-Tailed Hawk. Since the average value of each Roller pigeon taken generally exceeds $100, these losses are extremely disheartening to those who breed and love their pet pigeons.

    Many of our Club members have pleaded with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for intervention or assistance to relocate Cooper’s Hawks, in compliance with laws protecting livestock predated by endangered species. So far, our pleas have gone unanswered. Our government regularly assists ranchers when their livestock are predated by wolves, coyotes, cougars and bears. However, when thousands of our valuable pet pigeons are killed by Cooper’s Hawks whose current numbers far exceed any previous hawk population estimates, our pleas for assistance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are met with silence.

    However frustrating it may be, we understand and work with the hawk problem by not exposing our birds routinely to hawks when they are present and also by not flying at all during the seasons of the year when hawks are most prevalent, typically fall and winter in North America. This is the only method the NBRC recommends and endorses.

    The NBRC is the oldest and largest organization promoting the Roller hobby, with members throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Canada, and Mexico. The Club was founded to preserve and advance this wonderful breed of bird. We encourage people to take up the hobby; we assist beginners in the hobby irrespective of lack of resources. This includes members donating time and materials, building housing structures and assisting beginners to obtain high-quality breeding stock.

    The NBRC has been a contributor to local charitable organizations nationwide. In the Los Angeles area in particular, our organization holds shows and auctions with proceeds going to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Youth League, among other local charities. The hobby has become a great outlet for youths, particularly in deprived neighborhoods such as South Central Los Angeles, where this wholesome hobby has helped keep many young people from participating in gangs and illegal drug activity.

    The overwhelming majority of Roller enthusiasts are law-abiding and nature loving men and women from all walks of life. It is critical not to generalize the Roller fancier as aggressive, lawless or fringe. We count among our members men, women, and young teenagers from all walks of life. From blue collar to white collar and from red state to blue state, the NBRC does not discriminate and welcomes anyone to join its ranks. With over two thousand members spread across the United States, our membership is a true cross section of America, representing a variety of ideals, philosophies, and lifestyles, all brought together with one common interest.

    With regard to how the hobby and the Roller pigeon have been portrayed by the media, Rollers are domestic pigeons of many beautiful colors and markings. They are not common street pigeons. They have been cultivated over generations, producing a streamlined bird which is fully aware of its innate ability and can control it. It is not a nuisance pigeon, since it is trained to fly for twenty to forty minutes, after which it alights and promptly re-enters its home.

    The NBRC continues to promote safe methods for dealing with the predation problem, as it always has. Education and adherence to law have always been fundamental to the NBRC. We invite the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to partner with us in finding workable methods to protect our valuable pets from the increasing rates of predation by Cooper’s Hawks.

    NBRC

  4. The USFWS has had a history of exaggerating the truth, and in some cases making it up, to suit their own PR campaigns. I find it highly suspect that they would assert that the roller men in So Cal have killed 1-2k predators. Where did they get that number? Surely one undercover agent can’t have possibly witnessed that. I’m sure they took the number of estimated roller men in the area and multiplied it by some number they pulled out of thin air. Always take what you read from your government with a grain of salt. Each member of that task force is looking for a pat on the back from their higher ups. To get a glimpse into their tactics, please follow this link to see for yourselves :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Falcon_(USFWS_operation)

    Further, to criminalize and cast a shadow of suspicion on an entire segment of the population based on their hobby, from the observations of one agent in an isolated case, is beyond reproach. It is arrogant and irresponsible to say the least. You should consider where these allegations come from before falling off your lazy-boy in a hurried rush to cast the first stone.

  5. Trying to make the USFWS out to be the bad guys in this matter is understandable given the heat you and your fellow pigeon fanciers must be feeling and attempting to deflect at the present.

    But calling this an isolated case? I believe there were at least seven and as many as 11 people arrested as a result from an investigation that spanned more than a year. Certainly the alleged actions of those charged shouldn’t be misconstrued as being the norm among the whole of the hobby, and I’m sure the vast majority of roller enthusiasts out there are conscientious and law-abiding, but apparently here in Southern California there’s a different way of doing business and it’s been going on for some time as evidenced by the 1999 SCRA newsletter I found online that showed the following:

    “Fanciers have been able to trap some Coopers Hawks using wire traps, but the only defense against the falcons have been “heavy artillery” (if you know what I mean). On one visit to a fancier’s loft, I felt as if I was in Vietnam as he fired several shots into the air trying to hit a falcon that was ripping his kit apart.

    Walking near his loft, one could trip over the piles of bullet shells spread throughout the yard.”

    It’s a good question how the USFWS came up with that number of slaughtered raptors that you find so highly suspect. I’d like to know the answer. But even if it is exaggerated and the number is only 800 or 545 or 230 or 110, or 60 or even just 1 I’ll fall off my lazy boy throwing enough stones until you can trip over piles of them spread around the yard.

  6. You use that snippet of text also as if it were representative of the Los Angeles area fanciers. It is not. You don’t know if it isn’t itself an exaggeration meant to butter up some guy’s experience. It is no more representative of LA area fanciers as are the allegations from the FWS. Unsubstantiated and anecdotal at best, the FWS’s statements regarding the number of predators killed weighs heavy on anyone flipping through the channels and/or reading the paper, simply because they are a government branch, without understanding the facts fully. Anyone can print anything on the internet, irrespective of how true it is. Unfortunately, when allegations and unsubstantiated claims come from a government agency and implicates thousands of law-abiding, hard working Americans, you run the risk of sparking a witch hunt.
    I have no doubt that most fanciers, including myself, simply bite our lips and clench our fists when we see another one of our birds taken. We are forbidden to do anything else about it. And when the enforcers of these laws also refuse to lift a finger, or even so much as acknowledge the problem, it is frustrating and disheartening. It’s no fun to raise a bird for weeks, to tend to it, and to give it every chance at a healthy life only to have it snatched in an instant and devoured. If it were your puppy or kitten taken, I’m sure you would have the same reaction, if not worse. When you call the USFWS to actually do something about it, and your call falls on deaf ears, wouldn’t you want to do something about rescuing your kitten or puppy dog? I’m glad you agree that the numbers they site are magical. But more than that, judging from the comments on this blog the damage to the hobby and the every-day working men and women who enjoy it has already been done.

  7. Roller Guy, whether that quote I sited is a fabrication or not, it’s been online for going on eight years unchallenged or countered and as such can’t help but stand as representative to some degree of a mindset within the roller enthusiast community that condones violence against raptors.

    You’re right that anyone can publish on the internet regardless of its validity, but this wasn’t just some John Doe, this appeared in a newsletter of the Southern California Roller Association — an organizing and supervising body that’s willing to promote and accept the wholesale slaughter of birds of prey.

    I don’t believe this “ring” of suspects and their alleged actions represents the whole, neither do I dispute that a willingness to trap, torture and kill hawks and falcons isn’t something that permeates your hobby.

    Further, I can fully empathize with how connected you get to your birds and how distressing it can be to lose them and have little recourse from the vaccuum of response you receive from the various agencies you contact for assistance. But rather than dwell in frustration on the damage these allegations have done, you and your fellow bird fanciers now have an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness of your hobby and its responsibilities in hopes that you can effect change to benefit you and your birds.

    That may come off as totally pollyanna but what’s the alternative?

  8. The text you quote can and probably will remain uncontested and in its original form for years to come. There is no mechanism, other than by the author himself, to remove or modify that page. It’s a page on a free site and you know as well as I that those pages are usually forgotten. Now, one thing to note is, regional and local clubs are typically about 4 to 8 guys. Perhaps you didn’t know this and that’s fine, but in the scope of Los Angeles, even if all of the members of this club are the hardest, hell-bent animal killers, they don’t represent even a fraction of a fraction of the fanciers in Los Angeles, let alone the rest of the country.

    What does hurt the hobby and those who enjoy it is that the national organization was dragged through this, without evidence, using crafted constructs like “national pigeon clubs” and “rings” of pigeon lovers. It is nauseating to know how little people read into the media. They take it face value and react to it.

    No one is dwelling on the helplessness of the situation. But it does need to be told. Why would people who breed docile pigeons, who raise and care for them on a daily basis, be interested in killing another creature if not for the protection of the pastime they love, and in some cases to prevent the loss of income and property? From what FWS alleges, and what the ever-so-unbiased news reports, these guys were on a mission to kill hawks. I highly doubt that. I’m sure none of these guys ever ventured beyond their own property. Not much different than you taking a hoe to a snake that’s wrapped around your pet turtle.

    There are measures that need to be taken to prevent people from resorting to the extremes. Up to this point none have been taken. The hobbyist and commercial breeder are ignored. Instead, and as is usually the case, the FWS lets these things happen, for over a 14 month period mind you, then comes out with the bust of the century. Why not prevent them? Why not help out, by doing their job, protecting wildlife and restoring a balance. Are they not as guilty as the accused for letting this happen?

    If you really want to pursue this further, I recommend you look into how falcons and hawks have been recklessly re-introduced into nature. Check out how much the FWS pays falconers to breed and reintroduce hawks. See for yourself that at its core, these troubles are side effects of 30 years of conservation gone awry.

  9. Boy, Roller Guy, you sure know how to talk out both sides of your mouth at the same time.

    “I have no doubt that most fanciers, including myself, simply bite our lips and clench our fists when we see another one of our birds taken. We are forbidden to do anything else about it.”

    “I’m sure none of these guys ever ventured beyond their own property. Not much different than you taking a hoe to a snake that’s wrapped around your pet turtle.”

    “If you really want to pursue this further, I recommend you look into how falcons and hawks have been recklessly re-introduced into nature.”

    Recklessly re-introducing endangered animals into nature? (A necessity because of actions by people like you in the first place.) Only shooting birds that venture into your backyard? Oh my bleeping god. In your own words you seem to condone and even hint that you have killed these animals yourself. You should be more careful about what you say when trying to justify your sport. Your words seem to indicate a gulf of ignorance and a level of self importance that staggers the mind and depresses me about the human species that someone like you can say these things and think and act the way you do.

    I don’t even want to try to educate someone like you about the environment. You are clearly a lost cause.

    Know this, though, the birds you so casually talk about killing belong to all of us, myself included. And I do not take kindly to your ilk killing my birds. Not kindly at all.

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