31 charged in wild bird killings
By The Associated Press
This Associated Press Article discusses a continuing problem
in Oklahoma – The use of pole traps to kill raptors by
gamefowl keepers. Note the quote by James Tally, in which he
says that some roosters are as valuable as a calf. That is only
true if the bird is being raised for cockfighting purposes. -
Thirty-one gamecock breeders in Oklahoma were charged Tuesday
with trapping and killing predatory hawks and owls that swoop
down and snatch roosters. The results of a three-month
investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are a black
eye for the Oklahoma cockfighting industry as it challenges a
year-old ban on the bloodsport.
Federal agents were delivering violation notices to gamecock
breeders and confiscating traps in 15 counties Tuesday. The
Wildlife Service would not release their names until all 31
people were notified and the cases were turned over to federal
The breeders are accused of using steel-jawed leg traps
mounted on poles that catch birds by the talons and turn them
upside-down, said Julie Scully, assistant special agent in
charge for the Wildlife Service's Southwest division.
"The hawk, eagle or owl is then suspended in mid air to
die," Scully said. "It's very lethal."
The investigation, which included about a dozen agents who
set up surveillance in rural Oklahoma, netted more violators of
the Migratory Bird Treaty Act than any other in recent years,
Scully said. In 1989, federal agents charged 175 people in Texas
and Oklahoma with killing owls and hawks.
Gamecock breeders say flying predators are a constant threat,
hawks in daytime and owls in darkness.
"You can turn a hen loose with baby chickens and a hawk
will get every one of them," said James Tally, who has
about 350 fowl in Cartwright. "We just hope they're out
getting field mice."
Even older roosters, usually tethered by a leg so they can
move in 14-foot perimeters, are sometimes attacked. Each rooster
has its own house, but spends much of the day unprotected.
Tally, president of the Oklahoma Game Fowl Breeders
Association, said he has used a strobe light at night to keep
owls away from his birds. Other breeders hang flashing red or
orange lights, or put plastic shopping bags in trees.
Breeders also can apply for permits to use non-lethal, padded
traps, then call game wardens to remove the predatory birds.
Problem is, they often fly right back, Tally said.
Tally said he doesn't use traps and is surprised that 31
breeders were caught with them. Still, he wishes the Wildlife
Service would help breeders keep predatory birds away from their
fowl instead of going after cockfighters.
"It is a little unfair that you cannot protect your own
property," he said. "Some of these roosters are worth
as much as calves."
The charges come at a bad time for cockfighters and breeders,
who are battling a voter-approved ban on cockfighting a year
ago. The 7,000-member breeders association has blocked the law's
enforcement with injunctions and temporary restraining orders in
about 30 of the state's 77 counties.
The group wants the Oklahoma Supreme Court to withdraw its
jurisdiction and let the battle play out in county courthouses.
The breeders charged with illegal trapping live in Rogers,
Sequoyah, McIntosh, Choctaw, Atoka, LeFlore, Creek, Pontotoc,
Seminole, Coal, Lincoln, Pottawatomie, Murray, Grady and Jackson
They face a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a
$15,000 fine for each violation, said Jerry Monroe, a special
agent based in Edmond.
Monroe said the 31 breeders represent a small percentage of
the gamecock owners in Oklahoma.
"But those who persist in illegally trapping hawks and
owls are responsible for killing untold numbers of birds,"
Richard McDonald, who oversees Wildlife Service law
enforcement in the Southwest, said the investigation revealed
"a callous disregard of the law and the birds it
Species threatened by the traps include great horned owls,
barred owls, barn owls, red-tailed hawks and red-shouldered
who resort to pole trapping are destroying wild birds that are
part of our natural heritage," McDonald said.