NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – For nearly three years, dozens of dead and wounded raptors fell into yards in Somers Point, N.J., some with bloodied beaks, others with visible gunshot or pellet wounds.
Pops of gunfire erupted through the neighborhood. Some residents found bullet and pellet holes dotting the sides of their homes.
The birds turned out to be protected hawks that traverse a major migration route. And now a man faces federal charges that he repeatedly shot them from his back door.
Robert Losasso, 68, was arrested Friday on six counts of violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He is charged with killing or attempting to kill red-tailed hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, red-shouldered hawks and Cooper’s hawks.
Clad in a white T-shirt and plaid pants cut off at the knees, Losasso made an initial appearance in Newark federal court on Friday afternoon. He was released on $10,000 bail.
The federal public defender representing him declined to comment on the case. Losasso told reporters outside court he does animal rehab work, specifically with squirrels.
“I don’t know anything about any hawks,” he said.
But authorities said they put up a camera near Losasso’s home that looked into his backyard and on various occasions recorded him opening a rear sliding door and sticking the barrel of a gun outside or stepping outside with the gun and aiming it upward. The camera also filmed Losasso sprinkling birdseed in his backyard and using binoculars before stepping outside with a gun, authorities said. The complaint, however, stopped short of saying the camera captured Losasso firing a weapon.
Six birds of prey were recovered from yards near Losasso’s home. They were examined by scientists and were found to have suffered wounds from a rifle or pellet gun. A .22-caliber bullet was recovered from one hawk and air gun pellets from another.
In June, officers searched Losasso’s home and found a .17-caliber pellet gun and .22-caliber rifle propped up against a wall near the rear sliding glass door. Losasso acknowledged they were his, but denied that he shot the birds.
When he was first asked if he denied shooting the hawks, he said he would not answer because if he lied, it would be a felony, the complaint said. After that, he said, “I ain’t shot any,” according to the complaint.
The four species of hawks, as well as thousands of other birds, fly from Canada south along the Atlantic Flyway, a migratory route that goes over New Jersey. Somers Point is on the Jersey Shore about 12 miles southwest of Atlantic City.
The treaty act makes it a crime to kill “any migratory bird.”
Red-shouldered hawks that are of breeding age are listed as endangered in New Jersey. Sharp-shinned hawks are a species of special concern, a designation that applies to species exhibiting evidence of decline or vulnerability. Breeding populations of Cooper’s hawks also are a species of special concern.
Red-tailed hawks are among the most common raptors in North America, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.
AP staff photographer Julio Cortez contributed to this report.
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