Whirlybird Pilot Charged With Buzzing Birds
California helicopter pilot Jim Cheatham helped keep 10,000 marathon runners safe but it's the allegedly ruffled feathers of 43 seabirds that could land him a fine. Cheatham stands accused of three misdemeanor counts of "airborne harassment of birds" after federal officials somehow determined he flushed 43 common murres from the Castle Rock Murre Colony in Monterey County. The 61-year-old Cheatham was carrying a television cameraman and reporter covering the Big Sur International Marathon last April 27. Part of his job was keeping an eye out for injured runners and relaying the information to officials, because cellphone coverage is spotty in the area. Cheatham claims he's innocent on the bird charges and he's ready to let the feathers fly in federal court Jan. 5. "This is a method that government agencies do -- intimidation," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "They make it more expensive for you to win than it takes for them to lose. This whole thing is totally without merit." According to the Chronicle, the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman wasn't familiar with the case. It's not that Cheatham is unsympathetic to the common murre (which is apparently belying its name by becoming much less common) he just doesn't think his three passes over the colony really bothered them all that much. "We sympathize with any legitimate concern for wildlife. We just don't think we harassed any."