Big Bird is the main protagonist of the children's television show Sesame Street. Officially performed by Caroll Spinney since 1969, 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 /æbkədefgi:dʒekəlmɪnɒpkɔ:rstu: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 2000, Big Bird was named a Living Legend by the United States Library of Congress.
Performing Big Bird As Muppeteer Caroll Spinney has aged, the show has gradually started training new performers to play Big Bird. These apprentices include both Rick Lyon in the opening theme song of the show's 33rd season, 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. He also performed Big Bird when he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969 and on 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 Henson tried it on, Kermit Love, who had built the costume, did not think that Henson was walking like a bird is supposed to walk, and so Henson 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. Director Jon Stone, in the 1994 documentary The World of Jim Henson, revealed that the Big Bird costume actually did not 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. 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". 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 operates Oscar unless Matt Vogel is operating Big Bird, in which cases Oscar is performed by Spinney as usual. As of 2016, due to being diagnosed with dystonia, Spinney no longer puppeteers the bird suit full-time. Matt Vogel performs the bird suit on-set the majority of the time, with Spinney looping the dialogue later or having Vogel do the voice himself. Vogel also performs Big Bird (voice and puppetry) in live appearances, Chrysler commercials, The Furchester Hotel, and will be voicing Big Bird in new material for Season 48 of Sesame Street after Spinney's semi-retirement. Costume and portrayal Big Bird was originally designed by a drawing from Jim Henson and built by Kermit Love in 1969. 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 key background (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." Big Bird doesn't look the same in some international versions of Sesame Street. For example, in the Dutch version, Big Bird is blue and is called Pino. Big Bird's appearance has changed over the years, as has his personality. He originally had very few feathers on top of his head; his body feathers were also more shaggy and unkempt, and his body was not as rounded and full as it is now. His personality was more dopey and "bird-brained" than it later became. He gradually got more feathers on top, giving his head a more rounded appearance, and developed a blaze-like crest of lighter yellow feathers above his eyes. His body got fluffier, rounder and more well groomed as well. His personality developed over time from being a dim, slow-witted character into the childlike innocence he is known for today. Although all the Sesame Street Muppet characters are technically ageless, Big Bird is psychologically written to represent a six-year-old. 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.