Besides food-stamp errors and mysterious reports, the Agriculture Department also is on the lookout for a double yellow-headed Amazon. That's an exotic bird that might be on the loose in Colorado. USDA launched a statewide bird hunt last week after Customs Service agents said 10 of the birds, which had been smuggled into the country illegally, were Colorado-bound and may have been exposed to exotic Newcastle disease.
Outbreaks of that disease terrify the poultry industry because it is so deadly to chickens and turkeys. Last May, 2,100 rare birds in an Alexandria warehouse that were suspected of having the disease were killed by USDA agents even though tests later showed no evidence of Newcastle disease. Nine of the Amazon birds were found and destroyed after agents confirmed they had the disease, said Dr. Claude Nelson of USDA. It's unclear whether a 10th bird exists.
"Pound for pound, there's more money to be made smuggling exotic birds than smuggling marijuana," said Jerome Hollander, a spokesman for the Customs Service. Mexican smugglers recently were caught with exotic birds stuffed into car-door panels. The birds had been given tequila to keep them quiet, Hollander said.