OMAHA, Neb. (KETV/CNN) – Most people come to Lake Cunningham in Nebraska for peace and quiet, some fishing and birdwatching.
“Birds. You see them flying around all over the place and I mean it was part of God’s gifts,” birdwatcher Christian Schmitz said.
But there are now fewer birds, specifically swallows.
According to prosecutors, three men illegally captured 207 of them.
“[In] my 30 years in a prosecutors office I haven’t seen [this] before,” prosecutor David Smalheiser said.
A state trooper caught So Reh, Lu Reh and Su Reh with dozens of swallows at Lake Cunningham in June.
Then they found even more at an apartment where two of the men lived.
Some were still alive, others cooked and inside their refrigerator.
“The reports indicate that were a variety from young to older birds. I don’t know of any nests that were destroyed,” Smalheiser said.
“If they killed a lot of the adults, then some of the babies might have died if they weren’t able to feed their babies, too,” researcher and bird expert Jeanine Lackey said.
Killing, possessing, even disturbing birds like swallows has been illegal since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
Lackey says there are plenty of reasons to protect them.
“Swallows eat a lot of insects so they are helpful to have around,” Lackey said.
The concern is how to keep them around for the future.
“We need to have a level playing field both for the public and for our protected species,” Smalheiser said.
The men are from Burma. One of them moved here just nine months ago.
The three will be back in court in September with a translator.
If convicted, these men could 40-thousand dollars plus go back to jail.
It is still not known if they will face any federal charges.