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Big Bird ruffles a few political feathers

In this April 10, 2008 file photo, Big Bird reads to Connor Scott and Tiffany Jiao during a taping of Sesame Street in New York.


Ornithology A to B

Big Bird is an 8-foot-2-inch flightless yellow fowl of no particular species, who lives in a nest on Sesame Street. He's friendly, curious, easily confused and clumsy. Like everyone on Sesame Street, he loves the alphabet, which he sometimes sings as one word. No wonder he's an easy target for those who want to shrink or get rid of organizations such as PBS, the NEA and the EPA.

Give me your feathered masses

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The puppeteer who plays Big Bird can see out only by looking at a tiny video monitor inside the turkey-feathered suit. He controls the bird's arms with his left hand, and moves the head and mouth by reaching up high with his right hand. The posture is somewhat similar to that of the Statue of Liberty – or to give its proper name: Grand oiseau éclairant le monde.

This week's guest star: chaos theory

In a Slate posting in June, Dahlia Lithwick proposed a Unified Theory of Muppet Types, dividing the furry figures into Order Muppets (such as Bert and Kermit) and Chaos Muppets (Cookie Monster and Ernie). Lithwick didn't mention Big Bird, but confirmed in an update this week that the gentle, apolitical, unflappable fowl is definitely an Order Muppet.

The first thing is to peck your way out

Like Mickey Mouse, Big Bird never ages – he's always 6. His birthday is the first day of spring, which means his current date of hatching is March 20, 2006. That was just three weeks before Mitt Romney signed the Massachusetts health-care bill taken by many to be the model for Obamacare – the one thing besides PBS that Romney, during the debate, said he would cut.

Licence to kill friends

A watershed moment in Big Bird's career came when he responded on TV to the death of Mr. Hooper, the shopkeeper character who vanished from Sesame Street when the actor who played the role died. Rick Santorum, who jousted with Romney during the GOP's candidate debates, was asked this week how he would view the death of Big Bird.

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"I've voted to kill Big Bird in the past," he said. "… You can kill things and still like them."

Big Bird's first experience in a national race

Big Bird starred in a 1985 film called Follow That Bird, in which a bossy do-gooder named Miss Finch sends him to a foster family of dodos in Illinois. He runs away, and is caged by the Sleaze Brothers (SCTV's Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty), who dye his feathers and show him at red-state carnivals as the Bluebird of Happiness. His friends try to find him before Miss Finch does. Trailer tagline: "Now everyone's on the trail of that big yellow tail."

Easy to say when you're dressed like a bird

"I guess it's better to be who you are. Turns out people like you best that way, anyway."

– Big Bird, quoted on his homepage at

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Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization that created Big Bird, issued a statement this week saying it didn't involve itself or its characters in politics; but Big Bird's words might be good advice for some shape-shifting pols.

Can you tell me how to get to Zhima Jie?

Sesame Workshop is independent of PBS and gets most of its revenues from private sponsorships and licensing fees. In 2010, it launched a TV co-production in China called Big Bird Looks at the World. Note to Romney: the U.S. government doesn't borrow money from China to support Big Bird – he's got his own Chinese income.

De polls leap at them, too

"You know who loves debates? De fishes," Big Bird told Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers last weekend. He also said, "I feel like I'm famous now … It's so weird to think that just a few days ago, I could just blend in like every other perfectly normal, eight-foot-tall talking bird."

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