The city of Oakland is embroiled in a minor scandal involving the U.S. Postal Service, landscapers, a wood chipper and a nest full of protected baby birds.
The incident occurred last Saturday, SFGate reports, when post office officials ordered a number of trees trimmed to prevent the birds, identified as black-crowned night herons, from defecating on the mail trucks. It's not entirely clear what happened next, but witnesses who contacted local police insist they saw workers set aside a few chicks before proceeding to saw off the branches of four trees, sending the remaining nests and babies tumbling 25 feet into a wood chipper.
"It was awful," said Lisa Owens Viani, director of Raptors Are The Solution, who was one of the first people on the scene. "It's especially appalling because these birds are so vulnerable and such a valuable part of the ecosystem."
"The crew didn't know the baby birds were in there," said Joe Campos, a supervisor at the tree service. "They were new. It'll never happen again. It's a big deal, though - we don't want to destroy anything."
Both post office officials and the landscape company later denied the claims, but they did acknowledge to the L.A. Times that someone removed the birds from their nest, injuring them in the process.
Either way, someone could end up being in serious trouble: the birds are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and just removing them from their nest requires a permit. Killing them, meanwhile, carries a fine of up to $2,000 per bird and up to 6 month in jail. U.S. and California wildlife officials are investigating the case, which would most likely be criminal and go through the district attorney, said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the state Fish and Wildlife department. "There's no direct evidence that any birds were killed, but that could change with the investigation," he added.
Five of the baby birds found their way to the International Bird Rescue, which reports that "in addition to scrapes and bruises on the birds, one orphan underwent surgery to repair a fractured mandible." The landscaping company is paying for the chicks' rehabilitation costs, you can check on them via IBR's live BirdCam.