Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Big Bird

WMW Big Bird

Written by Ryan Dosier.


Performed by…

Caroll Spinney (1969-present)
Matt Vogel (various appearances since 2000)

First appearance…
Sesame Street Season 1: Episode 0001 (1969)

Most recent appearance…
Sesame Street Season 45 (2014)

8 feet, 2 inches

Best known role…
Fun-loving, curious, friendly, happy six year old bird resident of Sesame Street.

Best friend…
Mr. Snuffleupagus

Big Bird has always been the face of Sesame Street. He was the first Muppet character to appear in the show’s first episode, and he was the focus of the premiere episode of the landmark 40th season. As one of the most popular characters on the Street, Big Bird has been through a lot over the years, but he has never lost his charm or appeal.

In his first appearance, and throughout the first season, Big Bird was very different from the way we know him today. He was performed as a goofy, country yokel type character. Most notably, he was not portrayed as a child. Writers wrote Big Bird as sort of the “village idiot” of Sesame Street. It wasn’t until an episode where Big Bird pined to go to a day care center with the kids of the Street that performer Caroll Spinney realized who Big Bird’s character really was. “I thought maybe he shouldn’t be a big goofy guy,” Caroll said. “Why would he want to go to day care if he wasn’t a kid? He could be a kid–naive and learning.” Once this revelation was made, more feathers were added to Big Bird’s head to make him look less goofy, and he became the bird we know and love today.

Since that day, Big Bird sky-rocketed in popularity. He made the cover of TIME Magazine in November 1970, which proclaimed Sesame Street “TV’s Gift to Children.” Soon, more and more Sesame Street episodes and specials began to focus on the Bird. By the 1980’s, Big Bird was a powerhouse, starring in two specials; Big Bird in China and Big Bird in Japan, along with his very own feature film: Follow That Bird.

Throughout the run of the show, Big Bird has been the focus of most of the show’s biggest moments. In the second season, Big Bird met (a very scary looking) Mr. Snuffleupagus. Every time the bird attempted to introduce his adult friends to Snuffy, Snuffy would just barely miss them as he returned to his cave to brush his teeth or grab a tie. This led Big Bird’s adult friends to deem the Snuffleupagus as imaginary. It wasn’t until Season 17 in 1985 that Bob, Susan, Gordon, Maria, and all of the other adults on Sesame Street finally met Snuffy and believed Big Bird after all their years of disbelief.

Big Bird was also instrumental when Sesame Street dealt with the death of Mr. Hooper. In the classic scene, Big Bird brings all of his adult friends drawings he has done of them. When he hands them all out and has only Mr. Hooper’s left, the adults have to explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper died and isn’t coming back. This is often regarded as Big Bird’s most famous moment on the show.

More recently, in 2001, Big Bird’s nest was destroyed in a hurricane when Sesame Street taught about dealing with crises after the terrorist attacks on New York City in 2001. The Bird was also the focus of the Season 40 premiere episode, in which he contemplates migrating away from Sesame Street.

Big Bird has been there for all of Sesame Street’s biggest moments, and will be there for all of the ones to come. He will also presumably be six when they happen, too. In the 20th Anniversary special Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, when Bill Cosby asked Big Bird how he could still be six after 20 years, Big Bird laughed and responded, “Just lucky, I guess!”

Very lucky, indeed.

Since the very first episode, and forty years later, Big Bird has been performed by Caroll Spinney. Big Bird and Caroll share an immensely powerful bond. So much so that Caroll’s autobiography is titled The Wisdom of Big Bird. Caroll obviously loves the Bird if he is still willing and able to perform inside the huge, somewhat heavy costume, even at 75 years old.

Caroll was actively involved in choosing an understudy for him as Big Bird. Ultimately, Matt Vogel was chosen as the understudy for Big Bird. During auditions, Caroll Spinney shook hands with Matt and told him, “You know, Vogel means bird in German. This may be just the job for you.”


  • “Everyone Makes Mistakes”
  • “I Just Adore Four”
  • “Being a Birdkateer”
  • “Fugue for Readers”
  • “Good Morning Mister Sun”
  • “I’m No Aardvark”
  • “You Can Be a Birdkateer”
  • “The Happiest Street in the World”
  • “Tall Enough”

It is obvious why the Bird is needed on the Street. In many ways, Big Bird is Sesame Street. Big Bird represents the love, innocence, curiosity, and hilarity of Sesame Street. He also represents the immense staying power of the show. Big Bird has been around for all of the show’s 40 years. There is nothing more representative of Sesame Street’s 40 years than the Bird, and that’s why Sesame Street needs him. Without Big Bird, there really is no Sesame Street.

The Bird may have been overshadowed in recent years, but he is always there with a smile, a song, or a question. As he sang in yesterday’s season premiere, “Sesame Street is my habitat. Sesame Street is my home.” And Sesame Street finds a home in Big Bird. In his heart, his soul, and his hugs.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, muppetmindset@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Weekly Muppet Wednesdays: Big Bird

  1. To me, Elmo is the heart of Sesame Street, but Big Bird is the soul.

    Isay this because Elmo has managed to give the show a fresh start in helping to get the shows traget audience a chance to reconnect with Sesame Street in the last 10-15 years. He represents how children can enjoy everything around them and how to always be happy and never be afraid to laugh.

    Big Bird, on the other hand, shows what Sesame Street is really trying to do. Big Bird can always go up to anyone and try to figure soemthing out and is always willing to learn something too. But more importantly, he is always there to help someody when they need it and to give them the love that they need more than anything else. What's more, he's the only Muppet, along with Snuffy, that doesn't have anyone underneath him. In short. Big Bird is too importantr to Sesame Street and will always be there even when Caroll is not, which I doubt will be anytime soon.

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