Thieves calling themselves the “Big Bird Bandits” stole a $118,000 costume of the iconic “Sesame Street” character from a children’s circus in Australia. A few days later, they returned the seven-foot-tall suit with a note stuffed in the beak: an apology for being “such a big birden.”
“We had no idea what we were doing, or what our actions would cause,” the note said. “We were just having a rough time and were trying to cheer [ourselves] up. We had a great time with Mr. Bird, he’s a great guy and no harm came to our friend.
“Sincerely, THE BIG BIRD BANDITS”
The apology wasn’t good enough for authorities. South Australia Police said last week they had arrested a third person in the April theft, a 20-year-old woman they didn’t identify. The arrest came three months after police charged two men in their 20s. All three defendants have bonded out of jail and have future court hearings scheduled.
In mid-April, performers with the Sesame Street Circus Spectacular had been entertaining families in Adelaide, a city on the south Australian coast about 400 miles northwest of Melbourne. Their traveling 90-minute show features circus performers from around the world, along with marquee names from the PBS classic – Elmo, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie.
And, in ideal circumstances, the lineup includes Big Bird, the 6-year-old, 8-foot-2 bird who debuted on the first episode of “Sesame Street” in 1969 and has told millions of children since that it’s OK not to know everything. (Like the time he thought the alphabet was one long word.)
But Big Bird was a no-show in Australia for at least a few performances, because between the afternoon of April 18 and the following morning, thieves used a bolt cutter to steal the bird suit, which was stored onsite at the circus, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. The costume is made of ostrich feathers, takes three months to complete and had been flown in from New York after being approved by “Sesame Street” officials.
“Costumes like this are not just sitting on the shelf,” circus director Keith Brown told the ABC.
The only sign of Big Bird: a trail of yellow feathers.
After the birdnapping, the circus was quick to notify upcoming guests on Facebook that one of the most famous Muppets wouldn’t be at shows for the foreseeable future. Parents were displeased.
“How low can you sink, my son is gutted that [Big Bird] won’t be there,” one mother wrote in a reply.
Another mom said she’d taken her daughter to see the show last year, right around the start of the pandemic. Her daughter got a picture with the big yellow guy. More than a year later, she cherishes it.
“She still sleeps with her photo of her with Big Bird in her bed each night along with her toy Big Bird,” her mother said. “The photo even came camping with us over Easter.”
On April 21, the thieves returned the costume, dumping it next to a utility box before eluding police dogs, who had been called into the area by a concrete worker who spotted two men in the area. The costume was undamaged and returned in its entirety, which Brown said was a “big surprise,” especially since that included the sound and electrical equipment that make up some of the suit’s inner workings.
Brown said he thinks the thieves returned it because of the response to the case. The theft generated international attention, which led to a bunch of support – drivers honking as they passed the circus, Facebook comments, people calling to ask how they could help.
“Yesterday, the telephones didn’t stop,” Brown told the ABC in April. “I think this is the only reason that we got the costume back, because everybody’s got behind us.”