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Man who spray-painted birds gets hefty fine

Published: 1:56PM Tuesday January 31, 2012 Source: Fairfax

The man who caused a flap among bird watchers by faking a new breed of hawk has been handed a hefty fine for his antics - and has been told he will have to cover costs as well.

At a court hearing, Dannevirke dairy farmer Grant Michael Teahan, 39, was found guilty on two charges of animal ill-treatment after he trapped two hawks, spray-painted them red, photographed them and released them.

Sightings of the red hawks were first reported in early 2009, when photographs of the supposedly new species were sent to a Dannevirke newspaper.

The sightings continued for 18 months, ruffling feathers in the southern Hawke's Bay.

In the Dannevirke District Court yesterday, Judge Geoff Rea fined Teahan $5000, which he ordered to be paid to the SPCA, which investigated the painted hawks.

The judge also indicated that Teahan could have to pay as much as $15,000 costs to the SPCA to cover expenses.

In May 2010, in an autopsy on a dead hawk hit by a car, it was discovered the red birds were not a new species and had simply been painted - at great cost to their health.

This is when the SPCA became involved.

Its inspectors gathered enough evidence to raid Teahan's Tiratu farm, where files relating to the hawks - including newspaper articles - were found on his computer.

He had been tracked down after a dog called Miley had been identified in a YouTube clip of a man catching a magpie in a trap covered in red spray paint.

It was discovered a dog with the same name was registered to Teahan's address.

But he denied involvement in the ruse and unsuccessfully defended himself against the charges.

"You were trapping hawks, spray painting them and looking forward to the publicity that generated locally.

"You paid close attention to the news media coverage of it," the judge told Teahan, as he sat perched in the dock. "I have no doubt you were the person - either singularly, or with others - responsible for what has occurred here."

Judge Rea praised the work of the SPCA investigators, saying it was important to the public.

He warned Teahan he could have to pay expenses resulting from the defended court hearing held before Christmas - including witness expenses and legal fees.

"You've suffered a good deal of publicity and local humiliation - that goes with the territory."

Outside court, Teahan fled without speaking to the Manawatu Standard and he could not be reached by phone.

But earlier this month he said he did not paint the hawks, did not know who was responsible, and might appeal his convictions.

Palmerston North SPCA manager Danny Auger was satisfied with Teahan's punishment.

"It's a great result for the SPCA team that worked on it, and it's a good result for the people of Dannevirke as well."