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The evolution of Big Bird.

Image Production / Year Notes
Sesame Street
Season 1
The original Big Bird is ungainly in design and characterization, with clumsy body movements and a hick-like voice. The arrangement of the feathers appears more haphazard. Caroll Spinney had been quoted as being disappointed with this first iteration of the character: "He looked not too keen. I thought he was the ugliest thing I ever saw!"[1]

At this time, the puppet's head, neck, and torso were assembled, and buckled onto Spinney, in sections rather than as an entire unit.[2] Big Bird's original head design, with a paltrier amount of feathers, continued to be used as late as Episode 0083.

During the first season, Big Bird’s design is continuously modified. Among the puppet’s first changes are brighter orange legs, after his original set of legs caught fire in an incident when a klieg light fell only a couple feet away. Later the Bird's overhanging eyelids are placed higher to indicate a happier expression, first seen in Episode 0045.

Sesame Street
Season 1
Halfway into the first season, Big Bird's head is given a makeover, with a fuller crown of feathers and mobile eyelids. The Bird's right arm, once pinned to his side, is given life through a fishing line attached from under the neck to the wrist of the left hand. The movable wing design was first seen in Episode 0059, and the new head design premiered in Episode 0062.

Spinney recalled that during that first season, Kermit Love, who had built the puppet, gradually added more feathers above Big Bird's eyes. "And so he kept sneaking more and more feathers on him... until finally so that finally it was as big as a bushel basket."[3][4]

22nd Primetime Emmy Awards
For Big Bird's 1970 appearances on the Emmy Awards show and The Flip Wilson Show, as well as on several closing signs, a different puppet is used with an even larger head and cleaner feathers, indicative of Big Bird's design in later years. This puppet also sports googly pupils, similar to Cookie Monster's.
Sesame Street
Season 2
Big Bird has a rounder, slightly smaller head. The Bird's voice and personality slowly begin to change, gradually becoming more childlike.
Sesame Street
Season 2
An alternate Big Bird puppet was sporadically used between season 2 and the middle of season 3, as early as Episode 0204. Here, Big Bird's eyes are slightly further apart, more feathers are added to his head, his pupils are slightly smaller, and the blue lines of his eyelids are thinner.
Sesame Street
Season 2
Even more feathers are added to Big Bird's head, making him his current 8'2" size. Also, his eye focus is improved.
Sesame Street
Season 3
Late into the third season, Big Bird's head becomes considerably more almond-shaped. His eye focus has also been improved even more. By season 5, Big Bird completely loses all aspects of his earlier goofy voice.
Sesame Street
Season 9
Late in Season 7, three bright yellow highlights on Big Bird's forehead are now evident, though they have varied in size over the years.
Sesame Street
Season 10
Introduced midway into the ninth season, this more properly built version of Big Bird, with an even rounder head and a more shapely neck, closely resembles the current puppet. However, unlike most future Big Bird puppets, this version has the ability to completely shut his eyelids.
Follow That Bird
The three light yellow highlights atop Big Bird's eyes begin to form a full ring, as well as becoming even lighter in color. His head also becomes more rounder and his feathers are a bit more groomed.
Sesame Street
Season 20
Big Bird has a slightly taller forehead and a more slender neck.
Sesame Street
Season 29
Big Bird is now somewhat more vibrant in color, compared to preceding puppets. His head takes a slightly different shape and his forehead highlights are somewhat darker.
Sesame Street
Season 37
Big Bird's feathers are fluffier now. His forehead is even taller, and his upper neck tends to jut out more.

In blue-screen sequences (in Elmo's World: Doctors and episodes 4222 and 4265, for example), the blue lines on his eyelids are changed to gray.

Alternate Big Bird Puppets and Characters
The Blue Bird of Happiness
A blue version of Big Bird from Follow That Bird. The feathers and beak are light blue, but the tail is not entirely dyed. The torso of this version was used for Blue Bird, while the head is still used as practice for new puppeteers and was used during the screening for Garibaldo, Big Bird's counterpart in Vila Sésamo.
Big Bird
This is Matt Vogel's Big Bird puppet. The feathers on his head are fluffier, and the blue lines of his eyelids are a slightly different color to not interfere with the blue-screen background used during the Journey to Ernie segments. When Matt performs Big Bird in street scenes, he has normal eyelid colors.
During the mid-to-late 1990s, an alternate Big Bird puppet was used in street scenes which required Big Bird to shut his eyes. It was also used during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade performances during that time. It has bigger eyes and the head shape more closely resembles the 2004-present puppet.
Baby Big Bird
Baby Big Bird as seen in Sesame Beginnings.
Predecessor Puppets and Planning
Gourmet Bird[5]
Jim Henson's earliest idea for a walk-around bird puppet was originally designed for a Stouffer's Food commercial which was never produced.[6] The drawing on the right lays out the fundamentals for how the puppet would work, which are largely the same with those that would later be applied to Big Bird.
Nutty Bird from Royal Crown Cola ads
While not a full-body puppet, Nutty Bird's silly appearance and warm color scheme (including his yellow base, with variations of orange and red) were traits that would be incorporated into Big Bird's design.
Design sketches for Sesame Street
Henson's finished color sketch of his initial "goofy" vision for Big Bird. Here, the bird looks noticeably slimmer than how the actual puppet came to be.