Tony Silva

Last updated
Tony Silva
Born1960 (age 5960)
Known for
Criminal charge(s)
  • Conspiracy to smuggle wildlife
  • Tax evasion
Criminal penalty
  • 82 months confinement
  • $100,000 fine
Criminal statusReleased

Tony Silva (born 1960) is an American aviculturist and ornithologist, and the author of books and articles about parrots. From 1989 to 1992, he was curator of birds at Loro Parque, the largest parrot park in the world. In 1996, he was convicted of conspiring to smuggle rare parrots into the United States and of tax evasion. [1]


Early life and career

Silva was born in Cuba in 1960 and immigrated to the United States with his parents at a young age. [2] His parents encouraged his love of birds as a hobby to keep him out of trouble, and he began studying, collecting, and breeding birds at age nine. [2] Silva became enamoured with parrots at age 10 when he discovered macaws at a local pet store. [3] When he was in his teens, he became further enamoured after receiving a parakeet. [4] Silva's aviary was originally financed by his father (who owned a company that manufactured television components), later supplemented by his own income from breeding parrots, judging parrot contests, and lecturing and writing about parrots. [4]

Silva began writing articles about birds at age 16, and by age 20 he had published his first book. [5] In 1981, Silva received the Silver Avy Award from the American Federation of Aviculture (AFA) for being the first in the U.S. to successfully breed slender-billed conures in captivity. [4] [6] Silva was self-taught and did not attend university, but by age 25 he was already regarded as an authority on parrots and was respected as a successful breeder. [4] [7] In 1986, Silva became midwestern regional vice-president of the AFA. [8] By 1987, Silva was operating a pet shop called Tropifauna just outside of Chicago. [9] In August 1989, Silva became Curator of Birds at Loro Parque, Tenerife, Canary Islands, the largest parrot park in the world—a position he held until January 1992. [10] Silva travelled extensively to study parrots in the wild, [3] and wrote hundreds of articles and multiple books about parrots. [2]

Silva was well known as a conservationist: he was an outspoken opponent of poaching and smuggling, [1] and he was involved in the early efforts to save the Spix's macaw. [11] Although highly respected among aviculturists, he was viewed with skepticism by the scientific community. [12] To some, Silva was merely a popularizer of others' ideas; to others, he was a "charlatan" who promoted wildlife conservation but who was suspected of engaging in illegal wildlife trade as early as 1980. [12]


Shortly after Silva started selling birds, he is believed to have begun supplementing his own birds with birds obtained on the black market, before eventually moving into smuggling. [13] Between at least 1986 and 1991, Silva conspired to smuggle protected birds valued at more than $1.3 million into the United States, neglecting to declare this income on his taxes. [14] [15] [16] While he was working at Loro Parque, Silva's mother ran the smuggling operation on his behalf. [14] [15]

Birds were provided by co-conspirators in South America and shipped to Argentina or Mexico before being offloaded and smuggled into the United States. [17] [18] Smuggled birds were often concealed by mixing them into a shipment of legally imported birds; Silva and his accomplices sneaked out the smuggled birds while the shipment was awaiting quarantine inspection. [14] Other birds were smuggled in plastic tubes, cardboard containers, and false-bottomed suitcases. [14] [16] [19] Many died during transport due to lack of food, water, and fresh air, and many more are thought to have died during capture. [2] [19] [20] Birds were transported to a Chicago-area motel room where they were surgically sexed and furnished with forged documents so they could be sold on the legal market. [10] Some of the birds were publicly advertised for sale in American Cage-bird Magazine. [10] [21]

Operation Renegade

Silva was charged with smuggling at least 186 hyacinth macaws into the United States. At the time, each had a street value of $5,000-$12,000. Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus -Disney -Florida-8.jpg
Silva was charged with smuggling at least 186 hyacinth macaws into the United States. At the time, each had a street value of $5,000–$12,000.

In 1989, Silva became a person of interest in an international probe into bird smuggling known as "Operation Renegade" led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). [16] Silva had been brought to the attention of authorities when convicted drug lord Mario Tabraue turned informant, claiming that he had received a shipment of 35 smuggled hyacinth macaws from Silva—which arrived sick and died soon thereafter. [16] [5] [19] In early 1990, Silva's friend Jim Mackman approached authorities after discovering that Silva had been smuggling protected birds. [14] Between 1990 and 1992, Mackman worked as an undercover informant for USFWS, secretly recording more than 100 conversations with Silva and his mother about their smuggling operation. [14] A search warrant executed on 16 January 1992 resulted in the seizure of 103 parrots, some or all of which were protected or illegally imported. [23] The search also revealed ledgers documenting illegal transactions and photographs of birds that had died en route to Silva; prosecutors alleged that Silva used these photographs to justify withholding payments to his supplier. [19] [24]

Between November 1994 and April 1995, Silva was indicted on 20 charges, including charges of conspiracy to commit wildlife smuggling, as well as charges of tax evasion and perjury. [25] [26] [27] Silva was charged with smuggling at least 186 hyacinth macaws into the United States; [17] this comprised 5–10% of the global population. [28] Silva was also charged with illegally trafficking, transporting, or possessing a number of other birds such as crimson-bellied conures, Queen of Bavaria conures, vinaceous amazons, cockatoos, flamingos, and toco toucans. [17] [24] [28] He was suspected of having smuggled Spix's macaws, but this could not be proven. [10]

On 30 January 1996, Silva pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain to one count of conspiracy to violate wildlife and customs laws and one count of filing a false income tax return. [15] [22] He later attempted to reverse his guilty plea, [29] but this was not permitted by the court. [30] [31] On 18 November 1996, Silva was convicted of smuggling more than 450 protected birds and seven monkeys into the United States. [32] He was sentenced to 82 months in prison, fined $100,000, and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service during a three-year probationary term after his prison sentence. [28] [1] [16] At the time, this was the severest-ever sentence for bird smuggling in the United States, imposed by the judge because of "great cruelty" inflicted upon the birds. [28] [19]

Silva was incarcerated at FPC Duluth. [33] Appeals of his conviction were unsuccessful, [18] [34] as was an attempt to sue the U.S. government for the value of the parrots confiscated during the 1992 search. [23] Silva was released in May 2002. [35]

Life after prison

Despite having pleaded guilty, Silva has publicly maintained his innocence, suggesting that he was importing birds to preserve the species rather than for financial gain. [19] [24] He has also questioned the credibility of the witnesses against him, and he has alleged impropriety by the U.S. government in pursuit of his conviction. [36] [37]

As of 2016, Silva was working for an energy company and was keeping birds as a hobby, [38] as well as operating a rescue centre. [3] He has continued to remain active in aviculture circles as a writer and lecturer. [19]

In 2017, Silva and colleagues proposed a new species of parrot: the blue-winged amazon. [39] The existence of the species has been questioned. [40]

Selected publications

This is an incomplete list of works by Tony Silva.

Peer-reviewed articles

See also

Related Research Articles


Macaws are long-tailed, often colorful, New World parrots. They are popular in aviculture or as companion parrots, although there are conservation concerns about several species in the wild.


Conures are a diverse, loosely defined group of small to medium-sized parrots. They belong to several genera within a long-tailed group of the New World parrot subfamily Arinae. The term "conure" is used primarily in bird keeping, though it has appeared in some scientific journals. The American Ornithologists' Union uses the generic term parakeet for all species elsewhere called conure, though Joseph Forshaw, a prominent Australian ornithologist, uses conure.

Spixs macaw

Spix's macaw, also known as the little blue macaw, was a macaw native to Brazil. It is a member of tribe Arini in the subfamily Arinae, part of the family Psittacidae. It was first described by German naturalist Georg Marcgrave, when he was working in the State of Pernambuco, Brazil in 1638 and it is named for German naturalist Johann Baptist von Spix, who collected a specimen in 1819 on the bank of the Rio São Francisco in northeast Bahia in Brazil.

Scarlet macaw

The scarlet macaw is a large red, yellow, and blue Central and South American parrot, a member of a large group of Neotropical parrots called macaws. It is native to humid evergreen forests of tropical Central and South America. Its range extends from south-eastern Mexico to the Peruvian Amazon, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil in lowlands of 500 m (1,640 ft) up to 1,000 m (3,281 ft), as well as the Pacific island of Coiba. Formerly, it ranged north to southern Tamaulipas. In some areas, it has suffered local extinction because of habitat destruction, or capture for the parrot trade, but in other areas, it remains fairly common. It is the national bird of Honduras. Like its relative the blue-and-yellow macaw, scarlet macaws are popular birds in aviculture as a result of their striking plumage.

Blue-throated macaw

The blue-throated macaw, also known as the Caninde macaw or Wagler's macaw, is a macaw endemic to a small area of north-central Bolivia, known as Los Llanos de Moxos. In 2014 this species was designated by law as a natural patrimony of Bolivia, where it is known as barba azul, which means 'blue beard' in Spanish. Until 2010, it was hunted by natives to make feathered "Moxeño" headdresses for "machetero" ritual dances.

Loro Parque Zoo in Tenerife, Canary Islands

Loro Parque or 'Loro Park' is a 13.5-hectare (33-acre) zoo on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife, Spain where it houses an extensive and diverse reserve of animal and plant species. The park was conceived as a paradise for parrots and has developed over the years into one of the biggest attractions of the Canary Islands, with over 40 million visitors. The park keeps orcas, which has attracted criticism from some organisations.

Neotropical parrot

The neotropical parrots or New World parrots comprise about 150 species in 32 genera found throughout South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands, and two species formerly inhabited North America. They are also present on a few Pacific islands such as the Galápagos. Among them are some of the most familiar and iconic parrots, including the blue and gold macaw, sun conure, and yellow-headed amazon.

Anthony Juniper is a British campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and environmentalist who served as Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. He was Vice Chair of Friends of the Earth International from 2000–2008.

Golden parakeet

The golden parakeet or golden conure,, is a medium-sized golden-yellow Neotropical parrot native to the Amazon Basin of interior northern Brazil.

Black-capped parakeet

The black-capped parakeet, also known as the black-capped conure or rock conure in aviculture, is a parrot native to the south-western Amazon Basin and adjacent east Andean slopes in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. It has a total length of approximately 25 cm. It is mostly green with off white scalloping on the hindneck and breast and red primary coverts.

Feral parrot

A feral parrot is a parrot that has adapted to life in an ecosystem to which it is not native.

Jandaya parakeet

The jandaya parakeet or jenday conure is a small Neotropical parrot with green wings and tail, reddish-orange body, yellow head and neck, orange cheeks, and black bill, native to wooded habitats in northeastern Brazil. It is a member of the Aratinga solstitialis complex of parakeets very closely related to, and possibly subspecies of the sun parakeet.

Funds for Endangered Parrots

The Funds for Endangered Parrots (FbP) is a German non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the field of species conservation, which supports and operates projects worldwide for endangered parrot species.

Birds International Incorporated or BII is a company working in the field of aviculture established in 1975 by Antonio de Dios. It is located in Quezon City near Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Antonio de Dios is a "bird aficionado" known in the relevant circles from the Philippines who established in 1975 Birds International, Inc., a company working in the field of aviculture.

Rosemary Low is a British aviculturist, ornithologist, conservationist, writer and expert on parrots.

International parrot trade

The international trade in parrots is a lucrative enterprise, and forms an important part of the international wildlife trade. As parrots have become increasingly endangered, many countries have placed restrictions on the trade and/or prohibited the trade altogether. Despite the restriction on trade in many countries however, the market still operates both legally and illegally.

Arini (tribe)

The Arini tribe of the neotropical parrots is a monophyletic clade of macaws and parakeets characterized by colorful plumage and long, tapering tails. They occur throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America, and formerly the Caribbean and North America. One genus and several species are extinct; another genus is extinct in the wild. Two species are known only through subfossil remains. About a dozen hypothetical extinct species have been described, native to the Caribbean area. Among the Arini are some of the rarest birds in the world, such as Spix's macaw, which is extinct in the wild – fewer than 100 specimens survive in captivity. It also contains the largest flighted parrot in the world, the hyacinth macaw.

The American Federation of Aviculture, Inc. (AFA) is a national organization dedicated to aviculture, whose purpose is to educate the public and assist members regarding best practices for keeping and living with exotic birds. Local affiliate bird clubs throughout the United States, including Puerto Rico, along with national and international specialty organizations; comprise the Federation. The American Federation of Aviculture is registered as a non-profit 501(c)3 educational organization, with a business office located in Austin, Texas.

Blue-winged amazon Central American species of parrot

The blue-winged amazon is a proposed Central American species of parrot living in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. It was described in 2017 in the journal PeerJ; however, its existence as a distinct wild species native to the Yucatan Peninsula has been questioned. A critique published in the journal Zootaxa, identified numerous weaknesses with the description, and suggested that the most plausible hypothesis was that the two specimens on which the description was based, were hybrids.


  1. 1 2 3 Press, The Associated (19 November 1996). "Smuggler Of Birds Sentenced" via
  2. 1 2 3 4 "High-profile expert on exotic birds is sentenced for smuggling parrots - Nov 18, 1996 -".
  3. 1 2 3 "About Tony Silva". 16 November 2016.
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  8. Jerry, Jennings (1986). "President's message". AFA Watchbird. 13 (5): 13–14 via
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  13. "Wildlife: Would you stuff this into your suitcase? - Outside Online". 2 May 2004.
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  15. 1 2 3 "Parrot Advocate Admits Smuggling".
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 "A Defender of Rare Birds Is Guilty of Smuggling Them". The New York Times . February 3, 1996. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  18. 1 2 "United States v. Tony Silva, 122 F.3d 412 –". CourtListener.
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  20. "Did birdman smuggle endangered species?".
  21. Albus, Anita (2013). On Rare Birds: A Lamentation on Natural History's Extinct and Endangered. Lyons Press. ISBN   978-0762788057.
  22. 1 2 "Prominent parrot expert pleads guilty to wildlife and tax felonies: Snared by nationwide probe". AFA Watchbird. 23 (2): 62–63. 30 January 1996 via
  23. 1 2 "Silva V. United States 2002" (PDF).
  24. 1 2 3 "Expert Jailed In Illegal Trade".
  25. "Bird Expert Charged With Illegal Sales".
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  27. "Parrot Smuggling Suspects Indicted".
  28. 1 2 3 4 "Bird Smuggler Will Roost In Prison".
  29. "Wrinkle In Parrot Smuggling Case".
  30. "Bird Expert Barred From Reneging Guilty Plea".
  31. "Bird Expert Jailed Pending Sentencing".
  32. Science, American Association for the Advancement of (6 December 1996). "Random Samples". Science. 274 (5293): 1617. doi:10.1126/science.274.5293.1617 via
  34. "Silva v. United States, 75 F. Supp. 2d 877 (N.D. Ill. 1999) –". CourtListener.
  35. "Inmate Locator: Register No. 06402-424".
  37. Silva, Tony (August 1995). "Tony Silva Responds" (PDF). PsittaScene. Vol. 7 no. 3. Cornwall, UK: World Parrot Trust. p. 14. Retrieved 2018-06-07.
  38. "Tony Silva interview parrot breeding".
  39. Silva, Tony; Guzmán, Antonio; Urantówka, Adam D.; Mackiewicz, Paweł (2017). "A new parrot taxon from the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico—its position within genus Amazona based on morphology and molecular phylogeny" (PDF). PeerJ. 5: e3475. doi:10.7717/peerj.3475. PMID   28674651.
  40. Escalante, Patricia; Arteaga-Rojas, Abigail Eunice; Gutiérrez-Sánchez-Rüed, Mauricio (14 May 2018). "A new species of Mexican parrot? Reasonable doubt on the status of Amazona gomezgarzai (Psittaciformes: Psittacidae)". Zootaxa. 4420 (1): 139–147. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4420.1.9 via