A traveler from Iceland unwittingly violated a World War I-era federal law by bringing a taxidermied Atlantic puffin through U.S. Customs at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport earlier this month, officials said.
The stuffed bird, which the traveler declared to customs officials, was prohibited under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which makes it illegal to "take, possess, import, export, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale" any migratory bird or its parts, nests or eggs except with a valid permit, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The puffin, which was brought in a box to the airport on June 2, was seized by customs agricultural specialists. Because the bird had been declared to authorities, the traveler was released without a penalty. The person's name was not released.
Agricultural specialists encounter all manner of prohibited fruits and meats at the BWI customs desk, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Steve Sapp said. Travelers coming in from African countries sometimes bring monkeys and rodents, which are hunted and eaten in their home countries, Sapp said.
"We see a lot of those things usually, but it's very unusual for us to see a full-sized, taxidermied Atlantic puffin," he said.
Puffins, also known as the "clown of the ocean" and "sea parrot," are not endangered but are threatened by human activities, according to the National Audubon Society.
Atlantic puffins number in the millions worldwide, and they're particularly abundant in Iceland, where they are traditionally eaten, according to Susie Meadows, manager of the Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland, Maine. The center has been working to restore the U.S. population and has developed a colony of about 2,000 puffins.
"Just like we have turkey season and we eat grouse, they have puffin season," Meadows said. "That's kind of a game bird in their area."