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msnbc.com
updated 8/2/2011 1:02:44 PM ET 2011-08-02T17:02:44

Saving a baby woodpecker from becoming a cat's next meal briefly turned into a legal mess for an aspiring veterinarian and her mom, before U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials let them off the hook.

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"The citation is null and void," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Bill Butcher told msnbc.com on Tuesday. "We've rescinded it."

The Capo family's legal troubles started earlier this summer, when Skylar Capo, 11, of Fredericksburg, Va., saw a little bird in her dad's backyard — and then noticed the family's cat eyeing it, too.

"I've just always loved animals," Skylar Capo told WUSA 9 News. "I couldn't stand to watch it be eaten."

Skylar scooped up the woodpecker and looked for its mother. When her search turned up empty, she enlisted help from her own mother.

"She was just going to take care of it for a day or two, make sure it was safe and uninjured, and then she was going to let it go," Alison Capo told WUSA 9.

The Capos put the bird in their car to drive to Skylar's mom house. Along the way, they stopped at a Lowes Home Improvement Store, bringing the bird inside in a cage so it wouldn't suffer in the summer heat while they shopped.

A fellow shopper spotted the bird and confronted them, Capo told WUSA 9.

Read more from WUSA9.com

The woman worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and informed them that the woodpecker is protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Act, according to WUSA. Taking or transporting a protected species is illegal.

The act also prohibits the right to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill" birds listed under protection, according to the Fish and Wildlife Services' website.

The Capos brought the baby woodpecker home, opened the cage for it to fly away, and reported the incident to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Capo said wildlife officials told her, "That's great, that's exactly what we want to see," leading her to believe there would be no more discussion about the matter.

But two weeks later, the same agent who had confronted the Capos knocked on their door, this time with a state trooper. They gave her a $535 fine for taking the bird, and said if convicted of violating the law, Capo could face up to a year in jail.

That was a mistake, Butcher told msnbc.com. Capo doesn't have to pay a fine, and doesn't risk going to jail.

"They [the agent and state trooper] had gone to inquire about the health of the woodpecker," Butcher said. "At that point, they determined that no further action was necessary."

Despite this, Butcher said, the citation was processed unintentionally. He added that the agency has apologized to Capo and will send her a formal letter explaining the clerical error.

msnbc.com's Elizabeth Chuck contributed to this report.

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