Updated 4:26 p.m.
After looking into an incident regarding a potential “birdnapping” in Philadelphia’s Washington Square, the National Park Service is taking further action to ensure future violations of this type do not occur.
Videos posted to Instagram and Twitter Wednesday morning show two people sitting on a bench at the park, surrounded by sparrows. As the man watches, the woman eyes her prey, then deftly snatches a bird with her bare hand and proceeds to stuff it into a plastic bag, still alive with wings flapping.
In the caption to the Instagram post, Matthews says he recorded nearly 10 minutes of similar activity, and notes that his girlfriend, identified as Krístíana, spoke with a ranger about what happened to ensure that “this could never happen again at this park.”
According to National Park Service Public Affairs Officer Gina Gilliam, the ranger then approached the couple, who were feeding the group of sparrows when he arrived at the scene, to interrogate them about the complaint.
During the interview, one of the individuals confirmed that they had been feeding the birds, Gilliam said, while the other stated that they had caught and released a bird.
Per Gilliam, the ranger observed an empty plastic bag nearby — presumably the one seen in the video for entrapment — and “identified no location where they could have birds hidden.” The ranger was then reportedly called away to respond to a medical emergency, but before leaving did advise the couple that catching birds is illegal.
It was later in the day when the National Park Service became aware of the social media post, Gilliam said.
Other officials were not immediately familiar with the incident in the square, which is part of Independence National Historical Park, and said they had not previously heard of anything similar.
“This is the first time that I ever heard of or saw this report [in Philadelphia County],” Pa. Game Warden Jerrold W. Czech, Jr. told Billy Penn. Depending on how many and what kinds of birds the couple possessed or killed, they could be charged with a summary violation under the PA Game and Wildlife Code Title 34, he said.
Gilliam had also not heard about this particular occurrence — until this instance was brought to the agency’s attention that day — but did confirm that trapping and harassing wildlife in the park is against federal regulations, which state that violations can be punished by a fine or imprisonment for up to six months.
Though the City of Philadelphia does not have jurisdiction over Washington Square, it wouldn’t make a difference. In municipal parks, “hunting, trapping, or chasing wildlife is strictly prohibited,” according to Alain Joinville, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Dept. of Parks and Recreation.
Along with indignation, disgust and worries about animal welfare or sanitation, many comments expressed admiration for the adroitness it must have taken to snatch the sparrow barehanded.
Several reactions were tinged with assumptions built on racial stereotypes. The couple in question appears to be of Asian descent, leading to comments about the birds being destined for the dinner table.
If you see a similar occurrence? Per warden Jerrold W. Czech, Jr., the rules of “see something, say something” apply.
“If people see this, or if they are uncomfortable, they should call 911, call the Philadelphia Fairmount Park Rangers (215-685-0144), call the PA Game Commission (610-926-3136) and the ACCT (267-385-3800),” Czech said.
The names of the couple in the video have not yet been determined.