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Big Bird is a character on the children’s television show Sesame Street. Officially performed by Caroll Spinney from 1969 to 2018, he is an eight-foot two-inch (249 cm) tall bright yellow anthropomorphic canary. He can roller skate, ice skate, dance, swim, sing, write poetry, draw, and even ride a unicycle. Despite this wide array of talents, he is prone to frequent misunderstandings, on one occasion even singing the alphabet as one big long word (from the song called “ABC-DEF-GHI,” pronounced /æbkədɛfgi:dʒɛkəlmɪnɒpkwɜrstu:vwɪksɪz/), pondering what it could mean. He lives in a large nest behind the 123 Sesame Street brownstone and right next to Oscar the Grouch’s trash can and he has a teddy bear named Radar. In Season 46, Big Bird’s large nest is now sitting within a small, furnished maple tree, and is no longer hidden by used construction doors. He wears a red neckerchief and straw hat on his birthday and a red and blue necktie on special occasions every year and in early television specials.
In 2000, Big Bird was named a Living Legend by the United States Library of Congress.
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Big Bird was originally designed by a drawing from Jim Henson and built by Kermit Love in 1969. The design was based on a previous Henson creation: A seven foot tall dragon that the puppeteer created for a La Choy advertising campaign. 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 wing, while the right wing 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 wing. He is concealed by dressing in a body suit the same color as their chroma keybackground (something that obviously cannot be done on the main Sesame Street set). 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.”
In the mid-late 1970s, Big Bird made several appearances on The Hollywood Squares. As with Mr. Hooper, Big Bird frequently mispronounced host Peter Marshall’s name, calling him “Mr. Marshmallow” or “Mr. Masher”. In another episode, when asked by Marshall what kind of bird he was, Big Bird replied “I’m a lark”, which broke Marshall up.
Simon, Ellen. “He’s Big Bird: Caroll Spinney loves every feather”, Associated Press via Google News, 16 June 2008. Accessed 19 June 2008.
Demara, Bruce. “Sesame Street’s Big Bird: Brought to you by the letter C”. Toronto Star, 23 April 2014, E1.