Backyard Chirper

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Rescuing a baby bird nearly cost mom $535

In a fairly bizarre example of how important laws are sometimes extremely misused, the mother of a girl who saved a baby bird was initially slapped with a $535, only to have it rescinded.

According to Tree Hugger, the whole incident started after 11-year-old Skylar Capo spotted a baby woodpecker that was being threatened by a cat. The aspiring veterinarian did what she was supposed to, she picked up the baby bird and saved it from immediate danger.

Since Skylar couldn’t find the mother, she thought she’d take it to her house where she could safely release it. On the way home, she and her mother stopped at a local home improvement store and took the bird inside because it was too hot to leave in the car. That’s when they were stopped by an agent from the Virgina Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Little did they know, the woodpecker was a protected species under the Federal Migratory Bird Act, so it was “illegal for anyone to take, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, purchase, or barter, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such a bird except under the terms of a valid permit issued pursuant to Federal regulations.”

They told the agent that they were going home to free the bird, which they did. The bird flew away on its own and they let the agency know.

However, two weeks later, Skylar’s mother was notified that she was facing a $535 fine and possibly jail time. She was punished for her daughter’s well-intentioned gesture to save a poor baby woodpecker from certain death.

Luckily, that’s not the end of the story. According to MSNBC, the fine was rescinded because the agency said it was a clerical error. It’s more than possible the agency said it was an error because of the bad press they received from this outrageous case.

While the Federal Migratory Bird Act is an important law because it protects migratory birds from being captured, it was taken too far in this incident. The girl should not have taken the bird with her but instead should have tried to release the bird where it was at and then contacted an appropriate rehabber if it refused to leave. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between strict implementation and being too lenient.

Let this be a cautionary tale for all of you who would like to capture a wild bird. Never keep a wild bird in your possession unless you saved it from imminent danger.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.