May 26, 2007

Strange Stuff

Strange Stuff: For 40 years, the LA Times has tried to be a deeply respectable newspaper ("Who do you have to decapitate to make the front page around here?) despite the abundance of lurid news in LA. Occasionally, though, it does take notice of some of the weird stuff that goes on in SoCal:

Federal agents went undercover, conducting nighttime surveillance, setting up remote cameras and digging through trash cans, searching for possible criminal activity among Southern California's roller pigeon rings.

Roller pigeons, you ask?

Roller pigeons are bred for a genetic quirk that strikes in mid-flight, causing a brief seizure that sends the birds spiraling uncontrollably toward the ground. Thousands of hobbyists compete to see who can best make their birds roll in unison.

Here's a Youtube video of these genetically defective pigeons in action.

But for a hawk or falcon, a plummeting roller pigeon is fast food. Fed up by raptors spoiling their sport, some of the leading competitors in the roller pigeon field began illegally killing the predators, according to a federal indictment released Thursday.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents arrested seven men from Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including the president of the sport's national umbrella group, on charges of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a misdemeanor.

The agents blame the clubs that the men belong to for killing 1,000 to 2,000 hawks and falcons in Southern California every year.

"When you take out a predatory bird, you're taking out the upper end of the food chain," said Special Agent Lisa Nichols of the Fish and Wildlife Service. "It blows the balance of everything."

Birmingham Roller Pigeons, as they are officially called, are originally from England but now are raised in backyard coops around the world. In the U.S., "flyers" enter teams of 11 to 20 birds in competition. During 20-minute bouts, the birds are scored for the number, quality and depth of rolls that a "kit" or group of at least five birds performs in unison, according to the National Birmingham Roller Pigeon Club, whose president, Juan Navarro, was among the seven men indicted.

Navarro allegedly told an undercover Fish and Wildlife Service agent that he likes to "pummel" the hawks that he catches with a stick.

"You'll see, it gets the frustration out," Navarro said, according to a Fish and Wildlife agent's affidavit.

Navarro could not be reached for comment. On the Inner City Roller Club website, Navarro wrote that attacks by falcons and hawks have reached "epidemic proportions in the Los Angeles metropolitan area."

"The emotional stress of seeing birds taken daily is just too much for some fanciers," he said.

Well, I threw lemons at the raptor that swooped down and just about got my son's rabbit last year, so I can see how Mr. Navarro feels, but better his mutant pigeons than our rabbit. And killing 1000-2000 hawks per year in Southern California alone? Holy cow. Hawks are at the top of the food chain, so there aren't that many of them.

Skulking around the home of defendant Keith London in South Los Angeles, Newcomer and agent Ho Truong saw a trap on the roof and "what appeared to be a large bird flapping its wings."

Watching from Newcomer's Chevy Tahoe parked across the street, the agents watched as London, president of the Inner City Roller Club, climbed the roof, shot the bird with a pellet gun and threw it into his backyard, according to the affidavit.

Do you get the feeling that these guys would be pit bull fanciers if they didn't have their retarded pigeons? So, perhaps it's all for the best in the great tapestry of life.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I see this as primarily a male activity...

Anonymous said...

I've killed many raptors and never been bothered about it. I choose the place carefully and I have a method that is relatively impervious to ballistics forensics. The raptors are overpopulated now as they have been since the 80s.

Pigeon racers and rollers are almost all utterly ruthless and kill most of their own birds each season. They take pride in it. Most pigeon people are not real bright either.

Anonymous said...

Pigeon racers need to be removed from the food chain.

Anonymous said...

I love blanket condemnations. It's so much easier than critical thinking.

The USFWS service "estimate" of 1000-2000 is obviously an exaggeration. There are only 100-200 roller flyers in the L.A. area and only a small fraction at worst regulary kill raptors. If more did it , don't you think they would have been able to get more suspects than the less than 10 they got after their lengthy undercover work? Do the math. Here's an example of how much you can trust these sorts of USFWS press releases.

Anonymous said...

First, let's not remove pigeon racers from the food chain. Let's ADD them to the food chain. Very far down.

Second, I'd like to see a shred of evidence that "raptors are overpopulated" I'll just ignore the ludicrous "...and have been since the 80's". Rimaldy doesn't know what he's talking about.. Show us some data.

As for Sam's assertation that 100-200 people can't have killed 1000 - 2000 birds, I think it is easy for half the club members to have each killed 20 birds. I think it is even more believeable that 20 members have each killed 100 birds. Bad people can sometimes be quite efficient.

Anonymous said...

Mutant pigeons? There are hundreds of breeds of pigeons, just like there are hundreds of breeds of dogs and cats. A roller or racing pigeon is no more of a "mutant" than a Golden Retriever or a Great Dane. And just as people are protective of a beloved greyhound or a yorkie, people can be over protective of their birds.

Killing raptors is a federal offense, and people who do it must face the consequences of their violation of both law and decency. Raptors eat pigeons, dogs, cats and rodents. They were designed that way.

I keep fantail pigeons, and I don't kill raptors. There's no reason to assume that all people who keep pigeons are hunting raptors, any more that there is reason to assume that all people who keep cats are hunting coyotes.

Anonymous said...

I have raised rollers all my life and anyone who knows them know that their rolling is not a seizure, and that they do this when they want to.

It is almost only bird fanciers and enthusiasts that even notice raptors in their community. Most people don't even notice the bird life in their own backyards.

Because of my rollers, and my love of birds and flight, I am always with my "eye to the sky" so I notice migrations, hunters, soarers, etc.

Myth: The hawks catch these rollers while they are rolling.

Rollers, like the hawks, have great eyesight, and if you are flying a kit of 20 birds, that's 20 sets of eyes,
and they usually spot the hawks. If they spot them, all rolling stops and the birds become evasive, either flying above and behind the hawk, or completely scattering up high.
On average, most hawks cannot catch rollers in open sky, especially if the rollers are above them. The perigrine is one of the few predators that can catch them anytime they want, although they too sometimes have trouble with the larger, stronger racing pigeon. I have seen red-tails be successful in open sky before, but those were usually young inexperienced birds they were chasing.

And of course, MY biggest threat, the cooper hawk, which is much more stealthy, sneeks up and attacks the birds when they are at their slowest, taking off, and landing.

I grew up in Los Angeles and was hard pressed while growing up to see hawks and falcons in the city. I could fly my birds year-round, with maybe only one or two hawk attacks a year. Saw a few in Griffith Park, and any woodland areas, but they were never prolific in the city. Now, they are everywhere. I dont have national records, although I'm sure you can see the larger counts of migrating raptors from some of the stations around the country. But the numbers or proof of numbers means nothing to me, as I "see" them in large numbers in cities throughout the country. And I would reinterate again, that most people dont even know they have hawks in their own backyards.

Because of the large population of feral pigeons in L.A., or any city for that matter, (Whose presense is not because pigeons are prolific flying rats, but because we humans decide to feed them, either intentionally, or by throwing our trash on the ground.) falcons have been introduced and placed on alot of the tall buildings downtown, and along Wilshire Blvd to try and bring down the feral population. Alot of roller flyers live and fly their birds in these areas, and have their kits decimated.
And now, red-tails, coopers, and goshawks are all having a grand time living off the city pigeon populations, which unfortunately includes peoples rollers and racers.

I am now in PA., and like most roller flyers, try to appreciate and understand ALL birds. And although they make me angry taking my birds, I dont blame them and understand their nature, and fly my birds seasonally, as do most pigeon enthusiasts. I have coopers and goshawks that migrate here through the winter. They usually come in mid october, and stay thru february.
Every year there has been more of them, and every year they are coming sooner, and staying longer. So that I dont lose my birds, I lock them down through the hawk season. This has made me unable to compete with my birds because there is no longer enough time to train a good kit. It takes
3-4 months for a new roller to even start rolling, a few months to get good at it, and time to work well within a kit. With the hawks now coming in september and staying through march-april, there is not enough time, so my birds have become regular rollers, instead of the great aerial performers they were bred to be.

Flying rollers may seem weird to most, but I grew up in bad neighborhoods all over L.A. and flying rollers kept me out of trouble. And the first birds I ever saw in my life, facinated me. Flight itself was awesome.
I was hooked on rollers the first time I saw a kit. To see the colors, the way they flew tightly together, and the way they rolled together.
And now, at 53 years old, and when it is not hawk season, I still am relaxed and calmed by watching my birds fly when I get home from work.
People love and raise all kinds of pets and animals, and sometimes are blinded by their love. If you walked into Mr. Smiths yard, and shot his dog which was his companion for 20 years, Mr. Smith would probably shoot YOU!. Of course, Mr. Smith would be wrong, but you would understand why he did it.
If you have never raised rollers, or rabbits, or dogs or cats, or something alive that you loved, you will never comprehend the dismay of having it removed from you by a predator. I am not justifying the killing of hawks, only stating that I understand their reaction.

What bugs me about this entire situation, and other situations like it, is the resources, time and effort, made in making people guilty and wrong, with absolutely NO effort in communicating or creating a solution. The way I found out about rollers, AND hawks, was to ask and communicate with the people that know. I used to have a guy around the corner who was a falconer, and occasionally flew his falcon at the same time I flew my birds. After his falcon flew through my kit and ripped up a few birds, I noticed the tethers on his falcon's legs, and watched where the bird went down and went by there.
When he saw me, he expected a confrontation, but was quite surprised with my complements on the beauty of his bird.
(She WAS a gorgeous bird!) And since I took the time to go there and communicate with him about his bird, he came and communicated with me about my birds. We shared things with each other about the birds, that the other did not know. We worked out a flying schedule that was good for both of us and had no more problems.

No one from fish and game or wherever, ever
spoke to any of these roller guys, nor shared any pertinant information. No, they were just pre-judged as criminals, and dealt with like they were communist. They falsely acted as friends, then busted them,
when in fact, all that was necessary was the threat of being watched.
The NBRC (Nat'l Birmingham Roller Club.) is a well established roller club that has been in existence for many, many years, and
has thousands of members from all walks of life, not just poor people, or underprivledged, and have NEVER advocated the killing of hawks.
If you believe that there are no numbers to substantiate the increase of hawks in the city, how can you begin to believe that 6-8 guys killed thousands, hundreds, or even 20 birds each in a year? Hawks are also territorial and claim an area when not migrating. A pair in the wild might claim an area several miles square. In the cities those areas are smaller. (Enough food to go around for everybody.%^)
I have been lucky this summer in my own area, to have a pair of red-tails nesting nearby, that utilize a cell-phone tower not 50 yards from my loft, to survey, spot prey, and sun themselves. Their presense has prevented the cooper and goshawks from
claiming this area, so I have pretty much been able to fly my birds hawk-free. And sometimes a pair of kestrels nest nearby, who adamantly run all hawks away from the area. Sometimes, even the crows have saved some birds of mine by relentlessly harrassing the hawks. But the biggest help to my birds and all the song birds in the area, are the starlings! They will fly up en-mass and 'escort' the hawks around the neighborhood, making it impossible for him to hunt there.
I have seen some aerial chases over my house that have been jaw dropping! The turning, twisting, diving......awesome to watch.
I had a pair of falcons passing thru last year, I knew they were not resident, as I had never seen them before...I watched them "herd" my kit around the sky for 20 above the kit, and one below.......they made the birds go wherever they was like they were just having fun.......then they left.....never to be seen again.....and without snagging any of the birds. But I have also seen many of my birds disappear in a puff of feathers.......%^(

But for all you extremest generalist out there that choose to believe all pigeon flyers are genetic defect breeder killers,
you have no idea of what you speak.
Most, have a love you obviously would not understand.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that the FBI was undercover for a long time trying to investigate this killing. They wasted too much time and money for pigeons. They should be fire for not trying to solve a murder case instead.

And how can they proof that there has been over 2000 hawks kill. After saying that there is not so many hawks. I would like to see them proof it if they can. But that’s more money to waist. Hawks and Falcons don't attack only rollers or when they are rolling. This information is incorrect and should be taking off.

Anonymous said...

I think you can do whatever you feel like doing as longest you are in your house. When Predators attack you have the choice of deciding what to do. If someone breaks in your house to steel what should you do? Leave them alone or shoot them before they steal your personal things. This is the same with pigeons they are yours not the hawks to take them when they feel hungry; these birds are expensive in the $100 for each bird or more. I have lost over 40 birds in one year make the count of how much money I have lost.

Anonymous said...

Mutant pigeons?
I'm 100% with everything this person said. I understant exactly the emotions he feels when predators take your very best birds. If USFWS Service would of had talk to the members they all would of share their own concerns and help each other out. Instead they become your friends to gather information against you, and to lie.

Anonymous said...

The USFWS is doing what they are paid to do, protect migratory & non-migratory bird species native to the U.S. Hawk numbers are just now rebounding from the DDT and pesticides effects of the 70s that, among other things, caused bird eggshells to be too soft. Raptors and other wild animals are doing what God intended them to do. No one should expect wild birds or animals to do anything less.

As someone who raises chickens, quail, ducks, and geese, and treats them all as beloved pets, I am well aware of the threats caused by wild birds and animals but that’s just the way it is. And it’s not the wild animals that cause the biggest threat to my chickens, ducks, and geese, it’s the neighbors’ dogs but that’s a story for another blog.

Having native hawk species taking out your pets is not the fault of the USFWS or the hawks. To hate, loathe, and/or take revenge on native wild animals behaving naturally is the act of low person. If you covet your pets so much, seems curious that you would put them in such a compromising situation. If they’re so precious, keep them locked up like you’d keep your rare coins or priceless heirlooms. On the other hand, from the pigeon’s point of view, those few moments of flying free are probably worth the risk to the pigeon. And if they were living in the wild 24/7, they would have time and opportunity to somewhat adapt to their surroundings and extend their lifetime a few more months or years. None-the-less, to be taken out by predators is their lot in life same as it is my quails’ lot in life to raise large clutches of young of which 60-80% are destined to be hawk or animal bate.

Anonymous said...

I have a ? who went to jail for DDT they knew that was killing raptors, i know it was banned but who was arrested?