TAMPA — The duties of the Tampa City Council chairman are more ceremonial than investigative, but that distinction wouldn't stop Charlie Miranda from taking action when he sees fit.
It certainly didn't Sunday, when Miranda saw two men using nets to haul ducks from the Hillsborough River.
It was about 8 p.m., and Miranda was driving toward the W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard bridge when he saw the men on a vacant lot along Riverside Drive.
They were throwing and dropping nets on ducks, then pulling them in and putting the birds in one of two big cages in the bed of a green GMC Sonoma pickup truck. Miranda estimated there were 15 to 20 ducks in the cages.
"What are you doing?" Miranda, 73, asked one of the men, who was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and flip-flops. The man said he was just catching ducks to relocate them to St. Petersburg, where he lived.
"All I want is the eggs," he told Miranda. (Among some food enthusiasts, duck eggs are valued for their size, protein and mineral content, though they also have more fat and cholesterol than chicken eggs.)
Miranda tried to tell him that Tampa — as in, the entire city of Tampa — is a bird sanctuary and the ducks are protected. The man said he was going to get his ID to show Miranda who he was but got in the truck and drove off. Miranda noticed he was heading not toward St. Petersburg but east, so he followed.
Miranda was not alone. In the car with him was a friend, a retired sheriff's deputy. This week, Miranda said the friend didn't want to discuss the drive with a reporter because he had recently had major surgery and was trying to avoid unnecessary stress.
But during the drive, the friend said, "I never knew this side of you," Miranda said. "I said, 'I think they're doing something wrong.' "
He followed the truck for perhaps 8 or 10 miles, until it went into an apartment complex near the Florida State Fairgrounds, and got the truck's tag number, which indicated a Sarasota registration. Miranda said he followed at a safe distance, though at one point, he pulled alongside the truck when it stopped and told the driver that St. Petersburg is 22 miles in the other direction, but he opted not to follow it into the complex.
On Monday, a council aide reported the incident to Tampa police, who assigned a detective to investigate. Miranda said he has since heard that police confirmed the tag matches the truck he saw.
In designating all of the area inside the city limits as a bird sanctuary, Tampa's city code says, "It is unlawful for any person to hunt, kill, maim or trap or in any manner attempt to kill, maim or trap or otherwise molest any domestic bird, song bird, migratory bird, wildfowl or waterfowl, except birds or fowl raised in captivity for human consumption, or to rob or otherwise molest the nests of birds nesting or located within the corporate limits of the city."
Violations of the code are punishable by up to 60 days in jail and fines of $500.
Nancy Murrah of the Tampa Audubon Society said she hears of incidents like this three or four times a year and said the ducks are taken as food.
Miranda, who grew up in Ybor City in a time when people kept chickens and goats and more, said he never heard of someone snatching up wild ducks in Tampa. He also doesn't like to think about it.
"I don't know what happened to the ducks," he said. "I hope the ducks are still with us, but I don't think they are."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.