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Big bird.gif

Big Bird is a protagonist of the children's television show Sesame Street. Big Bird, like many of the other Sesame Street characters, is a Muppet character. He is sometimes referred to simply as "Bird" by his friends.

Officially performed by Caroll Spinney since 1969, he is an eight-foot two-inch tall bright yellow bird.[1] He can roller skate, ice skate, dance, sing, write poetry, draw and even ride a unicycle. But despite this wide array of talents, he is prone to frequent misunderstandings, on one occasion even singing the alphabet as one big long word (ABC-DEF-GHI), pondering what it could ever mean. He lives in a large nest behind the 123 Sesame Street brownstone (which had to be completely rebuilt during Season 32 after it was destroyed by a hurricane) and he has a teddy bear named Radar, after Walter "Radar" O'Reilly of M*A*S*H, who had a teddy bear and was also lovably naive and innocent. Radar was given to Big Bird by Gary Burghoff when he guest starred on the show.[2][3] Later on, however, it was said that Big Bird got the bear as a gift from Mr. Hooper.[citation needed]


As Muppeteer Caroll Spinney has aged, the show has gradually started to train new performers to play Big Bird. These apprentices include both Rick Lyon in the opening theme song of the show's 33rd season on, and Matt Vogel in the show's Journey to Ernie segment.

Caroll Spinney was sick during the taping of a few first-season episodes, so Daniel Seagren performed Big Bird in those episodes.[citation needed] He also performed Big Bird when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 and on The Hollywood Squares in the 1970s. According to The Story of Jim Henson by Stephanie St. Pierre, the costume was built for Jim Henson to perform, but when Jim Henson tried it on, Kermit Love, who had built the costume, did not think that Jim Henson was walking like a bird is supposed to walk, and Jim decided not to perform Big Bird. Frank Oz was offered the part, but since he hated performing full-body characters, he turned down the job.[4]

Director Jon Stone, in the 1994 documentary The World of Jim Henson, revealed that the Big Bird costume actually didn't have any openings that would allow the actor to see; a small television was strapped to the actor's chest to allow him to navigate.[5] The camera was set up for Spinney by technician Walt Rauffer, on the suggestion of director Bob Myhrum. Rauffer rigged the camera to a harness strapped to Spinney's chest; Spinney reported that they called the camera "the electronic bra".[6]

During instances where Spinney (or to a lesser extent, Matt Vogel) is performing on location and cannot get a video feed, a small hole is made in the costume to allow him to see. In such cases, Big Bird must wear a necktie to cover the hole. This can also be seen in the Sesame Street LIVE! shows. Likewise, during instances where Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch (both performed by Spinney) are to be in a scene together, Jim Martin performs Oscar unless Matt Vogel is performing Big Bird, in which cases Oscar is performed by Spinney as usual.


The Big Bird performer is completely enclosed within the costume, and extends his right hand over his head to operate the head and neck of the puppet. The Muppeteer's left hand serves as the Bird's left hand, while the right hand is stuffed and hangs loosely from a fishing line that runs through a loop under the neck and attaches to the wrist of the left hand. The right hand thus does the opposite of the left hand: as the left hand goes down, the right hand is pulled up by the fishing line. For some of the Journey to Ernie segments, a second puppeteer (usually Jim Martin) controls Big Bird's right hand. He is concealed by dressing in a body suit the same color as their chroma key background (something that obviously cannot be done on the main Sesame Street set).[citation needed] Big Bird's body suit weighs ten pounds, and his head weighs four pounds. According to writer Louise Gikow, the heat inside the suit is "unbearable, and it's extraordinarily difficult to hold Big Bird's head".[7]

The costume is partially assembled by company American & Fancy Feather, using the tail feathers from turkeys; as the feathers are rarely clean, company owner Anthony Trento calls the Big Bird costume his "toughest customer". Sesame Workshop is said to reject roughly 90 percent of all the feathers selected for use on the costume.[8]


In an episode of Sesame Street, Big Bird was asked if he was related to the cassowary, he replied, "I'm more of a condor." On a 1976 episode of Hollywood Squares, he said he was a lark. [1] In the film, Don't Eat the Pictures, Osiris calls Big Bird an ibis. Zoologist Mike Dickison hypothesizes that Big Bird, or Grandicrocavis viasesamensis, is a type of flightless crane.[9]

Other appearences

In 1985, Big Bird was the star of his own movie Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird alongside the cast of Sesame Street. The plot focused on him being moved away to live with his own species by a meddling social-worker (voiced by Sally Kellerman). He is not happy with his new home and he runs away and embarks on a cross-country adventure. Along the way he finds help from a friendly truck driver (Waylon Jennings) and two farmer kids. But on the bad side, there are two carnival owning brothers (Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty) who want to kidnap him and make him perform in their carnival for their own profit. In the meantime, his friends Bert & Ernie, Cookie Monster, Grover, Count Von Count and Oscar the Grouch are in pursuit of him to find him and bring him back home safely. Also joining them are their human friends, Gordon, Maria, Olivia and Linda with Bob aiding them from Sesame Street. Big Bird appeared in a series 11 episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe segment where he enters for the "Draw the Neighborhood" contest.

Big Bird made a non-speaking appearance in The West Wing Season 5 episode Eppur Si Muove. During a visit by The Muppets to the White House, Big Bird sits down on a bench next to CJ Cregg, who has complained during the episode of past comparisons to Big Bird due to her height.


  1. Shalom M. Fisch, Lewis Bernstein, "Formative Research Revealed: Methodological and Process Issues in Formative Research". In Shalom M. Fisch, Rosemarie T. Truglio (eds.), "G" is for "Growing": Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000. ISBN 0805833943. Pp 39–40.
  2. Sesame Family Newsletter, Sesame Workshop, 15 March 2006. Accessed 19 June 2008.
  3. Gary Burghoff - Biography, Internet Movie Database. Accessed 19 June 2008.
  4. Stephanie St. Pierre. The Story of Jim Henson, Creator of the Muppets. New York: Dell Publishing, 1991. ISBN 0440404533.
  5. Jon Stone, Director/Writer. The World of Jim Henson (1994)
  6. Gikow, Louise A. (2009). Sesame Street: A Celebration— Forty Years of Life on the Street. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57912-638-4.
  7. Gikow, Louise A. (2009). Sesame Street: A Celebration— Forty Years of Life on the Street. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. ISBN 978-1-57912-638-4.
  8. Anthony Trento, "The man who feathers Big Bird",, April 4, 2008. Accessed 19 June 2008.
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