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Big Bird is an anthropomorphic bird that appeared on the very first episode of Sesame Street and has been a staple of the children’s show until the present day.
Known for his large stature and bright yellow plumage, Big Bird is one of the most well-known characters on Sesame Street, along with the characters Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo.
In fact, Big Bird is one of the most recognized Muppets even by those who are not completely familiar with Sesame Street, appearing as guests in other shows or having cameos in different types of media.
Big Bird’s Appearance
Big Bird stands at eight feet, two inches, or 249 cm. There have been conflicting statements about his weight. Different episodes have mentioned him to weigh anywhere from 165 pounds up to 300 pounds. In reality, though, the Big Bird suit weighs 10 pounds while the head weighs 4 pounds.
Big Bird has yellow feathers all over his body, with large orange legs and feet. Each of his legs has five pink circles running from his thighs to where his ankles should be.
Over the years, the number of feathers around his body has changed. Initially, he had fewer feathers on his head and had a shaggy but less rounded body. Over time, his head had more feathers and his body became fluffier and had a better trim.
Instead of wings, Big Bird has hands that have three fingers each. His feet likewise have three toes each.
The Big Bird Suit
The design of Big Bird was based on a previous creation by Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets. The initial design was of a seven-foot-tall dragon that was used in a previous advertising campaign.
The actual suit was built by Kermit Love, with the initial design created in such a way that the feathers would naturally fall off as the puppet moves so as to simulate a more natural or organic way of movement.
The entire suit is a fully enclosed system, unlike other mascots where there are eye holes commonly found on the chest area. To allow the actor to see, a monitor was strapped to his chest. In some instances, a hole is added to the chest area which would then be obscured by a necktie.
Big Bird typically requires only one person to control. The actor controls the head with his right hand, while the left hand controls the left hand. The right hand typically does the opposite of the left hand such that if the left hand is raised, then the right hand goes down, and vice-versa.
In some cases where both arms are required to move independently, a second puppeteer is required to move the right arm in sync with the left.
The Big Bird suit uses real feathers, specifically from the white turkey. The number of feathers required can range from anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000. These are then graded and placed all over the suit, with the highest-graded feathers placed on the most prominent areas such as the head and arms.
The feathers are dyed yellow and hand-glued to the suit. Frequent replacement and addition of feathers are done in order to maintain the overall look of the suit.
Who Portrayed Big Bird?
Big Bird was initially voiced by Caroll Spinney when the character was created in 1969. He was also the person inside the suit as well as the voice behind Oscar the Grouch.
In cases where both characters were in a single scene, another puppeteer would control Oscar while Spinney provided vocals for both.
Other actors who portrayed Big Bird include Rick Lyon, Daniel Seagren, and Matt Vogel. Vogel was an understudy starting in 1996 and operated Big Bird starting in 1997 with Spinney operating Oscar instead.
In 2015, Spinney was no longer able to operate Big Bird full-time. Vogel eventually took over both puppeteering and voice duties for Big Bird. Spinney officially retired in 2018, having voiced Big Bird for over 50 years.
Is Big Bird a Boy or a Girl?
Big Bird is a boy. This has been confirmed by numerous sources and has been explicitly mentioned in several episodes.
However, there has been no official confirmation about his gender identity within the Sesame Street universe. In fact, there was a hoax article that came out in 2013 where it was stated that the show would reveal that Big Bird is transgender. This, though, has never been confirmed by the people behind the show.
Still, it is important to note that, through the over 50 years that the children’s show has been on the air, Big Bird has never been shown to be romantically linked to any character, Muppet or otherwise.
This, however, does not hold any real bearing due to Sesame Street being a children’s show and Big Bird technically being only five to six years old within the Sesame Street universe.
Is Big Bird a Chicken or a Turkey?
Big Bird is neither a chicken nor a turkey, although Oscar the Grouch sometimes refers to him as a “turkey”. This, however, is more of an insult rather than an identification of Big Bird’s exact species.
While Big Bird has never been classified as a chicken or a turkey, Big Bird does share some characteristics with them such as being flightless, having a larger body, a longer neck, and other attributes.
Also, it is important to note that, in one instance, Big Bird mentioned that he has an uncle who is a turkey. This, however, was during a Jimmy Kimmel Live episode and was not stated in the show itself.
What Bird is Big Bird Supposed to Be?
The semi-official classification of Big Bird is that he is a canary. This was indicated by a producer of a show. A 1998 book titled Sesame Street Unpaved also termed Big Bird as part of the species Bigus canarius.
However, none of these was ever confirmed within the show.
At times, Big Bird has been stated to either be related to the cassowary, golden condor, lark, ibis, whooping crane, and many more. Some of these have been mentioned by Big Bird himself, although these are not exactly canon.
It is also interesting to note that Big Bird’s grandfather is an emu in one Sesame Street episode. This indicates that Big Bird may be a mix of different species, or perhaps whatever the viewer wishes to believe.
Big Bird’s Personality and Details
Big Bird lives at 123 Sesame Street. His home is a nest designated at 123 ½. His nest used to sit atop a small tree which eventually became full-grown during Season 46 of Sesame Street.
The nest’s surroundings are surrounded by construction materials such as doors and paneling. There are also crates, bookshelves, and random items that often serve as random decorations or as topics for discussion depending on the episode.
Bird Bird’s Nest is right beside Oscar the Grouch’s trash can. While they are often seen interacting and are seemingly friends, Big Bird and Oscar have more of a love-hate relationship, with Oscar always getting exasperated with Big Bird’s naivete and innocence to the point of ignorance.
During the initial parts of the show, Big Bird is presented as being dim-witted, giving more meaning to the notion of the character in general being “dumb as a bird”. As the show progressed, his personality evolved to be more innocent and naïve rather than dumb, showing instances of easily misunderstanding statements.
Sesame Street indicates that Big Bird’s childlike personality is due to the fact that he is only six years old in the Sesame Street continuity. However, Big Bird is known to be very skilled physically, being able to roller skate, ride a unicycle, and do other physical activities. He can also write and draw with some skill.
Bird Bird’s Friends and Family
Big Bird is considered as one of the friendliest characters on Sesame Street, often interacting with several people as well as introducing guest stars and other visitors and new Muppets on the show.
Big Bird’s best friend on the show is Mr. Snuffleupagus, affectionally called Snuffy by his friends. For multiple seasons, it was a running gag for people to think that Snuffy was Big Bird’s imaginary friend, as he often disappears once other people arrive.
During the 1980s, however, the gag was removed and Snuffy became a regular character that other people can see and interact with.
He also has a teddy bear called Radar, which makes multiple appearances throughout the show.
Big Bird frequently mentions his father, mother, and sister in different episodes throughout the show’s run. However, he was raised as a baby by his grandmother Granny Bird, and his aunt Nani Bird, both of whom make appearances on the show.
The human adults normally served as his surrogate parents, particularly Gordon, Susan, and Maria. He also developed close friendships with Mr. Hooper, the owner of the store along Sesame Street that Big Bird and the other residents and guests frequent.
When Will Lee, the actor who portrayed Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, a special episode was dedicated to him. The episode presented Big Bird’s understanding of the meaning of death and how to deal with the loss of a loved one.
In memory, a picture of Mr. Hooper drawn by Big Bird, but in reality was drawn by Caroll Spinney, can be seen in Big Bird’s nest area, originally hung on a wall but now on top of his cabinet.
What is Big Bird Now?
Big Bird is one of the most well-known Sesame Street characters all over the world. He has made guest appearances on shows such as Deal or No Deal, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The West Wing, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Hollywood Squares, Saturday Night Live, and many more.
Big Bird has also appeared in various commercials, PSAs, magazines, and other forms of media.
Big Bird was the star of his own film in 1985, entitled “Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird”. Other movies and specials include 1978’s “A Special Sesame Street Christmas”, 1983’s “Big Bird in China”, 1990’s “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”, 2004’s “In Celebration of Me, Grover”, 2020’s “Elmo’s Playdate”, and many more.
The character is one of only two Muppets with their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The other character that holds the distinction is Kermit the Frog, who earned his star in 2002. On the other hand, Big Bird was awarded his star during a ceremony in August 2019.
The character also has his own Twitter account and has most recently endorsed getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic.
Surveys have constantly ranked Big Bird as among the top three most popular Sesame Street characters in history.
Other Versions of Big Bird
Due to the popularity of Sesame Street, many countries have had their own versions of the show. For all of its foreign incarnations, Big Bird or some version of the character has made an appearance. However, names and appearances have often changed depending on the country.
For example, Big Bird on Brazil’s version of Sesame Street is called Garibaldo. The character was originally colored blue with recent versions having the same coloring as the American version.
France’s version of Big Bird was named Toccata and resembled an albatross or seagull rather than an oversized canary.
The Netherlands also has its version of Big Bird. Named Pino, this version was pale blue and had different colored feathers atop his head.
China, on the other hand, has Da Niao, which is also Chinese for Big Bird. This version of Big Bird is almost identical to the original with very little difference to the latter.
It is interesting to note that all foreign versions of Big Bird are considered as cousins of the original. This was stated by Sesame Workshop, the organization that is responsible for the production and licensing of Sesame Street shows and characters.
Big Bird has also been widely parodied in many comedic shows such as Family Guy. There was also a since-deleted unofficial Twitter account that fictitiously pursued a candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The account gained over 100,000 followers before it was deleted and taken down.