There is a new victim of the shadowy world of animal fighting—the Saffron Finch. This small yellow songbird is the latest species to be fought in what is often a battle to the death. In nature, the 6-inch songbirds, indigenous to parts of South America, become very aggressive during mating. These fights, however, are often short-lived, as the birds have the option to fly away. In organized finch fights, the bird's natural instincts are exaggerated. Two male birds are placed in cages specifically built to promote competition—a female finch is suspended in a small box that hangs from the top of the cage. In many cases, the fighting birds will also have their bills sharpened to fine points or wear special blades to ensure maximum damage.
"I understand it sounds odd," says Tim Rickey, the ASPCA Director of Field Investigations. "But cruelty is cruelty, and the suffering that's part of this practice is horrible."
Besides being cruel to animals, finch fighting is closely connected to other crimes such as gambling, drugs and acts of violence. "The individuals who enjoy this kind of brutality, who attend these fights should be regarded as very dangerous," Rickey says. "They're the same type of people who enjoy dog fighting and rooster fighting."
Also known as canary fighting, this blood sport was prevalent in Brazil until it was banned two decades ago—but that hasn't stopped it from coming to America. Over the past several months, authorities have busted two finch fighting operations on the East Coast. Last June, 19 men were arrested and 150 birds seized in a Connecticut bust. And just last month, more than 20 finches were seized in a Massachusetts raid, where an investigation is ongoing.
"There's more of this going on than people know," says Rickey. "Finches are much cheaper to raise, they're quieter, and they're easier to transport and secret away. Trends like this, once they kick off, don't take much time to catch on."