Five Feathery Facts About Big Bird

March 17, 2020

Here are some things you might not know about Sesame Street’s resident friendly feathered friend, that sweet and lovable Big Bird.

A Bird Hatches

Big Bird as we know and love him today started out quite different. In the first episodes of Sesame Street back in the1969, he was portrayed as a bird-brained four-year-old who was slow to understand the world around him. Over time, Carroll Spinney, who originated Big Bird’s characteristics and mannerisms, decided along with the show’s writers and producers to make Big Bird a six-and-a-half-year-old with a childlike innocence and curiosity, serving as an audience surrogate.

The Bird Tree

Big Bird was raised by his Granny Bird and his aunt, Nani Bird. When he was old enough, he ventured out on his own and built a nest at 123 ½ Sesame Street, just beside the famous stoop. Big Bird shares his nest with his beloved teddy bear Radar, and loves spending time with his best friend, Snuffleupagus.

Get Your Wings

Portraying Big Bird requires a unique set of skills, all undertaken by puppeteer Caroll Spinney. It’s a combination of wearing a character suit, puppeteering, and voice acting. First, the puppeteer dons the legs and feet, which are essentially a pair of pants. The top half of Big Bird is all one piece which an assistant gently lowers onto the puppeteer. The puppeteer then uses his right hand to operate Big Bird’s head and mouth. His left hand operates Big Bird’s left wing, while his right wing is operated with a piece of fishing line that runs through a loop under his chin. In 2015, Spinney, then 81 years old, retired from the physical performance of Big Bird, but continued voicing the character until late 2018. His longtime apprentice, Matt Vogel, then took over the very special job of playing Big Bird.

A Unique Specimen

Big Bird is a six-and-a half-year old and 8’ 2" tall yellow bird. But exactly what kind of big bird is Big Bird? There are lots of answers. On a 1976 Hollywood Squares appearance (among others), Big Bird identified himself as a lark. When he visited Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1981, he claimed to be a golden condor. Sometimes he says he’s a canary, and that his scientific name is Bigus canarius.

Big Birds of a Feather

The Big Bird puppet is, of course, covered in feathers. Those feathers are from real life turkey feathers. Each feather is dyed yellow and carefully glued onto the suit. About 6,000 are in use at any given time. At Caroll Spinney’s memorial, guests each left with a yellow feather to commemorate his life.


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