In a campaign dominated by talk of high unemployment and soaring deficits, Mitt Romney's threat to sack one particular government employee -- Sesame Street's Big Bird -- has ruffled feathers.

In an otherwise strong performance in the first presidential debate on Wednesday, Romney vowed to cut support for public television, saying he liked the tall yellow muppet but felt he should try his luck in the private sector.

"I'm sorry Jim. I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS," Romney said to Jim Lehrer, the longtime host of PBS's Newshour and the debate's moderator.

"I'm gonna stop other things. I like PBS. I like Big Bird. I actually like you too," Romney added.

President Barack Obama ignored the remark, but the Twittersphere exploded, with users racing to register parody handles and weighing in on the decision to fire the longtime star of "Sesame Street," a popular children's program.

"Mitt Romney is going to get jumped by a gang of toddlers with plastic baseball bats! DON'T YOU EVER... EVER THREATEN BIG BIRD!!" Eche Madubuike tweeted.

"Obama killed bin Laden. Romney would put a hit on Big Bird," Eli Clifton wrote.

"You know it's a recession when Big Bird is out of work," quipped Romeo Bennett.

Other users circulated a picture of a dejected Big Bird sitting on a stoop next to two children and holding a cardboard sign reading: "Will work for food."

"Sesame Street," produced by the non-profit Sesame Workshop, has been on the air for more than 40 years, and similar shows exist in more than 150 countries.