Thomas Cullen, of Goshen, New York, was convicted of importing rare Black Sparrowhawks from England. The huge African birds are listed as an endangered species under a 1973 international agreement.
According to the International Herald Tribune, Cullen was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $1,000 for knowingly importing exotic birds into the United States and making false statements to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service related to the importation. The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 outlaws the importation of endangered exotic birds with several exceptions, including importation for scientific research or zoological breeding.
Cullen had claimed he once owned the largest private collection of birds of prey anywhere in the United States and at the time of his trial, in 2005, he owned 47 birds of prey at his home. At trial, Cullen said he was bringing the birds into the country for friends who could legally import the birds. Further evidence had shown he illegally kept the birds himself.
The court of appeals pointed out that while they often refer to an odd provision of law or a ingenious argument as a “rare bird,” this was a special case because the subject matter was itself a “rare bird.”