Police bust finch-fighting ring

NEW HAVEN, CT Police arrested 19 people from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey and seized 150 birds in a house raid on an alleged bird-fighting operation. Most of the birds were saffron finches, which are small birds native to South America, and a few were canaries, officials said.

Police said they made the arrests Sunday just as spectators had placed bets and were getting ready to watch the birds fight at a home in Shelton, just west of New Haven. Authorities say they seized $8,000 in alleged betting money.

Authorities often deal with cock fighting, but police and animal experts said they had not heard of fighting involving finches and canaries before.

"We're blazing new territory," said Wayne Kasacek, an assistant director with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. "This is something for law enforcement and for us to learn about."

Kasacek said some of the birds had previous injuries, including blindness in at least one eye, and may have to be euthanized.

The 19 people, all originally from Brazil, were charged with cruelty to animals and gambling. Police also charged the homeowner, 42-year-old Jurames Goulart, with interfering with officers.

Goulart denied the charges, saying he had the birds for singing.

"I take care of the birds," he told The Associated Press. "They're like my son."

But his wife, Maria, told a different story. She told the AP her husband, a landscaper, and others trained the birds to fight and gave them some type of food, either protein or sugar, that made them more hyper.

The birds would fight for some 15 minutes, pecking each other in the legs, head and eyes, according to Maria Goulart. She said the fights have been going on for years around the region.

"I got very upset when I see they started bleeding," she said. "I think he has to pay for his action."

Experts say finches can be territorial and aggressive if placed in overcrowded conditions.

"There's usually a greater amount of space needed for welfare and comfort for finches than you would think," said Dr. Brian Speer, co-author of "Birds for Dummies."

Canaries are normally passive, but also can be aggressive if overcrowded, Speer said.

Dr. Laurie Hess, incoming president of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, said finches can peck at each other's eyes and feathers and can cause bleeding. In the wild, male finches might fight over a female, she said.

"They'll pull each other's feathers out," she said. "They'll mutilate each other."

Finches are popular for their bright yellow, orange and other color mutations, Hess said.

Canaries have long been popular for their singing. Prized ones known as German rollers for their singing sold for $300 to $500 in the 1920s, Speer said.

"They can be operatic. They're beautiful," Hess said.

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