The shipping manifest listed it as a bird sculpture.
But it turned out to be a natural work of art: a very real, extremely rare red siskin finch, as dead as Monty Python’s parrot.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced Thursday that agriculture specialists in Philadelphia had discovered and seized the taxidermied bird, which is classified by global conservationists as being among species most in danger of extinction.
The shipment arrived by plane from the Netherlands, destined for an address in Atlanta, and was confiscated near Philadelphia International Airport.
Once abundant across northern Venezuela, the finch now survives in only a few small, isolated groups, according to the Red Siskin Initiative, an international partnership that seeks to restore sustainable numbers of the birds.
With its distinctive red body and black cowl, the red siskin has inspired generations of Venezuelan singers, poets, and painters, the initiative says. Today, it’s easier to find the bird pictured on Venezuelan currency than in its natural environs.
Trapping and habitat destruction have brought the bird close to extinction. Collecting specimens from the wild is banned, except in certain cases of conservation or scientific research.
The bird was turned over to Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors.
“Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists continue to exercise extraordinary vigilance while inspecting a wide variety of parcels every day,” said Casey Durst, director of field operations for CBP’s Baltimore field office.
Agricultural specialists work to safeguard agricultural and natural resources from harmful pests and plant diseases. During a typical day last year, the force seized 4,552 prohibited plant, meat, and animal by-products, and intercepted 319 insect pests at U.S. ports of entry.