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Bird Shootings Start, Stop Mysteriously

The shootings ended as mysteriously as they began.

At least 30 birds of prey were killed or wounded in an unprecedented series of attacks during January and February.

Then the attacks stopped. Nobody was arrested in the shootings, and state Fish and Game officials say they have no firm leads in the case.

“Unless someone steps forward and confesses, we’ll probably never know whether it was one person or a whole bunch of people,” said Jan Yost, a state Department of Fish and Game warden.

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Theories abound, however.

The idea that one or two individuals were behind the shootings is discounted by most, largely because the attacks were reported from Fullerton to San Juan Capistrano to Seal Beach.

Then there is the suggestion that the attacks were carried out by various immigrant groups that consider hawks, falcons and owls “mystical birds” that can change one’s luck if captured or killed.

But most wildlife biologists and state officials seem to agree the shootings probably were random and independent of each other, and that a number of people are to blame.

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“It just seems too far-fetched that one or two people could have done it,” said Pete Bloom, a research biologist with the National Audubon Society. “I think it was a series of young bozos who came up with the idea at the same time.

“They probably carry a pellet gun in their front seats and every time they saw something in the air, they decided to play wild, wild West and take a shot.”

Bloom said it was more than a coincidence that the shootings occurred after Christmas, when young people often receive pellet or BB guns as gifts. It was also a period when the county’s bird population swells as migrating birds stop to rest and feed.

“In January and February, you probably can see 20 hawks in 20 miles of freeway in the county,” Bloom said. “But a month later you can drive that same stretch of road and see maybe one. Most of the native birds are protected because they inhabit the backcountry and ranches where there is little or no access to the public.”

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Art Bass, an Orange veterinarian who treated some of the wounded raptors, called the attacks malicious.

“I think it was the work of bored people with nothing better to do,” Bass said. “The sad thing, some of those people think it is a sport. What it is, is sickening.”

Though none of the birds that were shot belong to an endangered species, some of the species represented are rare and many are protected by state, federal and even international law. Anyone caught killing a protected bird in California faces a fine of $2,000 and up to a year in jail.


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