Monday, August 02, 2010

They did not need to die.

"They did not need to die."

Neytiri - Avatar

After making a jot of notation, Rick continued, turning to the eighth question of the Voight-Kampff profile scale. "You have a little boy and he shows you his butterfly collection, including his killing jar."

"I'd take him to the doctor." Rachael's voice was low but firm.

Blade Runner - Philip K. Dick

Nearly all North American bird species are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it unlawful to take migratory birds, their eggs, feathers, or nests. "Take" is defined to include by any means or in any manner, any attempt at hunting, wounding, killing possessing, or transporting any migratory bird, nest, egg, or part thereof.

About a year ago I discovered several YouTube videos of kids shooting and killing songbirds (nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows, catbirds, robins, jays, woodpeckers, wrens, warblers, flycatchers, and more) with BB guns, pellet guns, and even arrows. It's quite despicable and sad for a birder to watch. It's apparent these kids don't realize they're breaking the law; some even emulate the style and enthusiasm of professional hunting shows found on television.

Are these kids merely honing their hunting skills? Will they evolve into ethical wildlife stewards and protectors of habitat by contributing to land conservation as licensed hunters? Did you shoot songbirds with a BB or pellet gun when you were a kid? The videos offer plenty to think about.

Keeping this in somewhat of a perspective, of all threats to migratory birds, habitat loss and fragmentation is the primary cause of steady population declines. Other human causes of mortality (tens of millions of birds annually) include pesticides, feral cats, and collisions with buildings, windows, and automobiles. Fairly low on the list you'll find hunting. Because it's managed by federal and state agencies, hunting birds legally is not considered a threat to the population of any North American bird.

So, what about the illegal hunting of birds? There really isn't much data out there, but apparently over 3 million BB and pellet guns are sold each year. This doesn't tell us much. How many of these videos are on YouTube? The more I searched the more I found, and the list at the end of this post is a mere sampling of what's out there.

For a long time I kept knowledge of these videos to myself. However, I decided to forward one in particular to the US Fish & Wildlife Service because it showed a visible license plate on a vehicle in the background. I thought it would be an easy case for them to investigate and potentially prosecute. Weeks passed, but nothing ever became of my inquiry. Finally, I decided to share the videos with Sharon Stiteler of Birdchick Blog. Repulsed by them, she also reached out to USF&WS and here is the reply she received and recently shared with me:

"Here is our law enforcement's response [below]. Unfortunately, the reality is that juveniles are involved and not enough badged men to go around, so anything you wish to take into your own hands education-wise is up to you."

USFWS, Reg. 3, Migratory Bird Permit Office

"Two of the three, and possibly all three of these videos show only evidence of children shooting birds. The Federal government does not prosecute juveniles, except for the most heinous of crimes. Lot's of these types videos floating around the web and not enough agents. Took us several months and hundreds of investigative hours (including numerous interrogations and lab work) to catch the whooping crane shooter, only to discover DOJ would not prosecute the juvenile shooter (he was 17). Some of our agents do pursue these types of investigations when time allows."

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region

The kids know not what they do, but I dare you to tell them that. If you leave a comment on a video citing its unlawfulness you'll be met with the most extreme and juvenile vitriol. You know, because they're just kids. So, what now? Contact YouTube? They're unlikely to police it. In fact, I couldn't find anything specifically prohibiting the posting of these types of videos in their Terms of Service or Community Guidelines except possibly this:

"Don't post videos showing bad stuff like animal abuse, drug abuse, under-age drinking and smoking, or bomb making."

Do you think this constitutes animal abuse? From an animal rights perspective, are these songbird killing videos depicting anything worse than legal duck, turkey, and pheasant hunting? I would like your thoughts and ideas. For now, the best it seems I (we) can do is to flag the videos:

YouTube: We Enforce These Guidelines

"YouTube staff review flagged videos 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate our Community Guidelines. When they do, we remove them. Sometimes a video doesn't violate our Community Guidelines, but may not be appropriate for everyone. These videos may be age-restricted. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination."

YouTube, LLC
901 Cherry Ave.
San Bruno, CA 94066
Phone: +1 650-253-0000
Fax: +1 650-253-0001

WARNING: The following videos show unlawful killing of songbirds; some are extremely graphic and will likely upset anyone who admires songbirds.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Removed!)

White-throated Sparrow

Northern Mockingbird

American Robin #1

American Robin #2

Gray Catbird

Tufted Titmouse

Eastern Phoebe

Brown Thrasher

Carolina Wren

Northern Cardinal

Blue Jay (Removed!)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Multiple Songbirds #1

Multiple Songbirds #2

Multiple Songbirds #3


  1. I guess I'll pass on watching the videos. But after seeing the lengths that kids (monsters, really) went through to smash cliff swallow nests and kill the chicks inside last summer near where I work I wouldn't be surprised at anything. And after reading about the Humane Society of the US's fight to stop "crush videos" from circulating I have no doubt that humanity's capability for cruelty and depravity towards animals and even ourselves is indeed limitless...

  2. Unfortunately, they are all lacking a proper education by their parents or any adults. Certainly "some" parents know what they are doing with these BB guns. Bottom line is that some people just do not care. *The responses to your report are a shame.
    My son is 10 & I have already educated him on the consequences of killing animals. On the other hand my brother has a son &.....
    *I didn't dare watch the videos.
    Though I hated the topic I found it very informing.

  3. @Donna: Then I have succeeded.

    Mike M.

  4. Little losers...wish I would catch them doing it!

  5. Dear Mike, I was so glad to find this post even though I'm a bit late to the commentary. Like you, I've come across a distressing number of such videos on You Tube. My comments, too, have been met with vitriol and threats that would be frightening were they leveled in person. I've reported each instance to You Tube but the videos remain weeks after being tagged as abusive and illegal.

    I hold a less tolerant view, I suppose you could say, of shooting birds in general, legal or otherwise. It's been a gradual evolution of thought, having spent so much time in the field with hunters -- as a photographer and a wildlife rehabilitator -- and witnessing both the legal and illegal acts. Through years of this experience, I've come to believe that although legality and ethics are guideposts among the respectable hunters, there's far too much inane behavior and unwarranted wildlife injury for me to condone the sport of wingshooting as a whole.

    I do think that ethical lines become much thinner when we permit near indiscriminate killing of some species (non-native birds, crows during season, and so forth) and then expect armed children to know the difference. But ... that's not to absolve anyone of responsibility. It's a travesty of parental apathy or encouragement that this goes on (yes, I've seen encouragement for such air rifle games).

    The whole area of what we can or cannot shoot makes propriety around killing animals quite murky indeed for many who have no moral compass. Legality only inhibits behavior in the presence of authority. Morality, it seems, is the only overseer when left to one's own devices. What a shame these children are, indeed, left to their own devices with tools that cause such great harm and suffering.