Mary, a straight-talking senior citizen, is the kind of woman who would jump in front of a car to save a family of ducklings. So you can imagine the sense of horror when — lying in bed one night — she heard the sound of a mother duck in pain.
She snuck outside to investigate but found only an empty nest near her lakeside home in a five-block retirement community called Romont, near North Star Lake, where small white houses back up to canals. Feathers were strewn across the grass. And in the distance: the sound of a car engine starting.
Until last year, a hundred or so fowl nested there. Today there are fewer than a dozen. It got her thinking: Where have the ducks in my neighborhood gone?
Several months ago, neighbors began noticing a beat-up white van regularly parked by the lake. On its side, a magnetic sign read, "Pigeon and Duck Removal."
The man who drove it had a thin beard and trapped ducks at odd hours of the night. He chased after the feathered squawkers using a small aluminum net and seemed flustered if people watched. (When mail-delivery woman Hattie Gilbert "spooked him...he packed up" in a rush.)
Adds neighbor Mitch Savin: "You can tell right away this is not normal." He suspects the bird man is selling duck meat to restaurants. Confronted by another Romont resident, the trapper claimed to be relocating the fowl to Amelia Earhart Park. He handed over a card that read simply, "Birdman."
His actual identity: Jorge L. Galarraga, a 36-year-old with a rap sheet that includes batteries, an assault, and a burglary. (In most of the cases, no action was taken.)
By phone, Galarraga began to tell Riptide: "I didn't steal nothing—" but was interrupted by the sound of a rooster crowing loudly.
Officials at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Galarraga's permit to collect fowl is expired. He would need written permission from owners. As for where the quackers ended up, Amelia Earhart Park manager Lars Bergquist adds, "He certainly isn't relocating them here."
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