He’s yellow, he’s tall, and he’s the first member of the Sesame Street gang that newcomers are likely to encounter. That’s right: This article is about all things Big Bird! Despite his notoriety and prominence in the history of children’s television, many are left baffled when asked about the identity of this feathered friend. After all, he took not only the United States but the entire world by storm with his charisma and comedy!
The species of this classic character, as well as his age and size, will all soon be revealed. If you’re a fan of Sesame Street, past or present, or you’re simply full of genuine curiosity, we might be able to answer some of your more pressing questions.
The Crafting of Big Bird
Before we go into exactly what he is, let’s talk a bit about who he is. Big Bird is a gigantic puppet that was designed by the talented and late Jim Henson, then crafted by the just as fantastic Kermit Love. One of the most iconic and classic Sesame Street characters, there’s a lot to love about this gigantic guy. The puppet is so massive that, in scenes where he moves both his wings, two puppeteers are needed to maneuver him.
Then came the feathers. Thousands of them, individually hand-dyed, to get that radiant yellow hue. They were then layered in a way to give Big Bird his fluffy and feathery appearance. Due to the size and the density of the plumage, ensuring even coloration and maintaining the feathers’ look over time was a concern. The company that helped provide these feathers, American Plume & Fancy Feather, said that this was a particularly rough challenge. They had very specific requirements for this design, so much so that 90% of the supplied feathers got rejected!
Big Bird’s Origins
Originally, Daniel Seagren was intended to be the performer inside the Big Bird costume. Seagren was an accomplished puppeteer and had worked with Jim Henson on previous projects. However, the fit wasn’t quite right—both literally in terms of the costume and metaphorically regarding Seagren’s connection with the character.
Then entered the incredible Caroll Spinney. Spinney had met Jim Henson in 1969 at a puppeteer festival in Salt Lake City. After seeing Spinney perform, Henson approached him with an opportunity to work on Sesame Street. Although their first meeting was brief, Henson saw something special in him.
Despite some initial challenges with the Big Bird costume (like the inability to properly see), Spinney’s dedication to the role led him to develop techniques to embody the character fully. Over time, Spinney made the role his own, crafting a character that resonated with audiences across the globe. For nearly 50 years, Caroll Spinney brought life to our favorite bird, creating an unforgettable legacy. If Spinney hadn’t been offered the role or if he hadn’t seen the potential in Big Bird’s character, the beloved bird we know today might have been very different.
What Kind of Bird is Big Bird, Exactly?
Now, for the moment that you’ve (likely) been waiting for. What species of bird is Big Bird, if any at all? Over the years, there has been much debate. To this day, there is still speculation surrounding this fact. Here’s a rough breakdown of all of the separate occasions his species has been mentioned.
“G” is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street: In this book, released in December of 2000, there is a Sesame Street producer who mentions that the intention of the creature’s design was to be a canary.
Mister Roger’s Neighborhood: During the eleventh season of the Pittsburgh-based series, the puppet character King Friday XIII asked Big Bird if he had any relation to the cassowary. In response, he stated that he was a “Golden Condor,” which is quite an interesting theory!
Hollywood Squares: On a January 1976 episode of this popular series, Big Bird starred as a special guest. After host Peter Marshall asked him what species he was, he jokingly replied that he was a lark. As you can tell, no two answers are the same.
Mike Dickison: This popular zoologist speculated the bird’s species as well, within his Petchakutcha talk. His guess was that Big Bird is a special kind of bird that was a sort of evolution of the whooping crane.
One thing is for sure: No matter his species, he’s lovable, imaginative, and iconic. Actually, two things are for sure! Whatever type of bird he might be, he’s definitely flightless! It’s well-established in canon that Big Bird doesn’t fly. The show even featured a song called “Big Bird Doesn’t Fly!” Our feathered friend isn’t alone, though; there are multiple flightless birds, including the ostrich.
The Character’s Height, Weight, and Age
If we’re speaking technically, then you’d know that Big Bird is the same age as Sesame Street itself. But you see, time doesn’t play by the same rules over there! To be clear, the characters in the series are technically ageless. In the realm of the show, as well as in the general canon, our yellow-feathered pal is perpetually six years old. This is because the writers wanted him to keep the wide-eyed and childlike curiosity that is so essential to his demeanor. He’s perpetually a toddler and will forever have the beautiful imagination that comes with youth. (So, be easy on him if he gets the alphabet wrong on occasion!)
Now, let’s break down his physical characteristics. We’ve gone into the specifications of the puppet, but for reference, here are his exact dimensions. This anthropomorphic bird is 249 cm in height, or rather, a whopping eight-feet and two-inches tall. We don’t know his exact weight, but if we were using his height as a reference, an average BMI would be roughly 295 pounds.
Big Bird: Quick Facts
Now that we have some understanding about everyone’s favorite bird, let’s speedrun some other fun facts! You might be familiar with some of these, but others could come as a big surprise. Test yourself with this trivia to see just how big of a fan you are!
- Alongside Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog, Big Bird is one of many beloved characters with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
- Among other things, Big Bird is also an international diplomat! In 1983, Big Bird visited China for the special “Big Bird in China,” which aimed to introduce Chinese culture to children in America (and, of course, vice versa).
- You might know that our feathered friend enjoys traveling, but did you know that he almost went to space? In the 1980s, he was considered to be a guest on the Space Shuttle to promote interest in NASA among young audiences. But this didn’t really work logistically, so the idea never came to fruition. Another beloved character, Snoopy, did visit space during the Artmeis I mission in 2022, however.
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