Woman Accused of Stealing Birds from Philadelphia Park, Prompting National Park Service Investigation

A sparrow collects a feather in a park in March 2010 in Kiev, Ukraine. A woman was caught stealing sparrows from a park in Philadelphia, prompting a National Parks Service investigation. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Park Service launched an investigation after an NBA shooting coach accused a woman of snatching birds from a Philadelphia park and putting them in plastic bags.

The unidentified woman was filmed taking the small sparrows from the city's Washington Square park Tuesday. Since the National Park Service manages the property, she violated federal regulations that prohibit removing wildlife from parks.

In the video, the woman, seated at a park bench with an unidentified man, slowly leans down, and it appears she grabs a sparrow from a flock she has drawn with crumbs. The rest of the birds scatter as she stuffs the captured one, flitting in her arms, into a plastic bag with another bird already inside. She then appears to tie the bag closed as the two captured sparrows flutter their wings inside.

In an odd turn of events, it was NBA shooting coach Chris Matthews who documented the scene on Twitter and in a now-deleted Instagram post.

"Relaxing in the park in Philadelphia and we saw this," he tweeted, punctuating with a face-palm emoji. "Smh my gf caught them snatching birds."

Independence National Historical Park spokesperson Gina Gilliam said a park ranger confronted the pair after patrons informed officials of the bird-napping. The ranger explained to the couple that catching and keeping birds violated park policies.

The ranger found an empty plastic bag near the couple, with no indication they hid the birds anywhere, she said. The whereabouts of the birds in the video are unknown.

"We are not aware of any recent similar incidents of this type," she said in a statement. "The park is taking actions to ensure future violations of this type do not occur."

Unnatural human interference with wildlife in national parks rarely benefits the animal. In 2016, a bison calf "rescued" by tourists in Yellowstone was euthanized after its mother rejected it. Despite repeated attempts to reunite the calf with its herd, the bison was abandoned and wandered too close to cars on in-park roadways, officials said.

Repeated incidents of bison goring and seriously injuring guests who ventured too close prompted the park to release a study advising against "selfies" with the 2,000-pound mammal later that year.

Some park guests have more sinister intentions. At Saguaro National Park in Arizona, cactus thieves poach the titular, tree-like plants and sell them for more than $100 per foot. The cacti are said to boost the property value of homes or businesses that plant them.

"It's an absolute robbery, and it's absolute criminal activity. And it's for profit," National Parks Conservation Association program manager Kevin Dahl told PBS.

To combat thievery, Saguaro tags targeted wildlife to ensure they aren't stolen. Some parks tag certain animals like bears to monitor population movements, but rangers typically avoid tagging since it's considered invasive.