Almost all of the 43 presidents, from George Washington to President Obama have had at least one pet.
Information is sketchy so we tried to aggregate all the facts we could find about presidential pet bird ownership.
George Washington (1789 -1791) Had Polly the parrot which was actually Martha’s.
Apparently, George was an impulse buyer because he got the parrot from a trading ship having come all the way from the West Indies and had stopped at Mount Vernon.
George didn’t like the bird – and the feeling was mutual.
They kept a close eye on one another when in the same room.
More than a decade later he hired a carpenter to fix the cage of a bird no one can recall. His step step-granddaughter had what people remember as a “green” parrot.
I don’t want to label Martha as a “collector” but history tells us that several parrots lived at the Mount Vernon estate.
In 1802 two years after George’s death, a visitor to the estate noted that there were several species of parrots one of which was a cockatoo a very friendly cockatoo or so the story goes.
Mrs. Washington died soon after the traveler’s visit.
James Madison (1809 -1817) Dolly Madison owned a Macaw that outlived both of them.
When British troops set fire to the presidential residence during the War of 1812, she heroically rescued the parrot as the fire was engulfing the White House.
John Quincy Adams (1825–1829) Louisa Adams, wife of this president, known at the White House for her silkworms, also owned a parrot during her husband’s term.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) Pol the African Grey parrot had been bought as a gift for his wife Rachel. Unfortunately, Rachel died, and the President had to take care of Pol himself.
Pol was taught to swear and screamed curse words at his funeral. The African Grey had to be ejected from the funeral ceremony when he started cursing in both English and Spanish, all learned from the president!
President John Tyler (1841-1845) had a canary that died shortly after they tried to pair him with a mate only to discover it, too, was a male.
Zachary Taylor: (1849–1850) Had a canary Named Johnny Ty Not to be confused with the Zachary Taylor American who was the first baseman in the National Baseball Association for the 1874 Baltimore Canaries.
President Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
One of President Franklin Pierce’s accomplishments while in office was the signing of the Treaty of Kanagawa.
Prior to the treaty, Japan had remained closed to foreigners since 1683, making this trade treaty one of particular importance.
When the treaty was signed, the Japanese graciously bestowed gifts upon U.S. Representative Commodore Matthew Perry to bring back to President Pierce.
Among these gifts were 7 teacup dogs and 2 birds.
James Buchanan (1857–1861) He had a terrible presidency but owned a cool pair of bald eagles given to him as gifts to somehow make up for his lack of a wife (he had an elephant too – must have been a Republican).
Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) We only have historical references that he owned a parrot as well as other pets.
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877 – 1881) Hayes had four Canaries with clipped wings (and a Mockingbird).
Rutherford B. Hayes’ Canaries
It’s said one of the canaries regularly spent time between one of his cat’s paws (in a good way)
Abraham Lincoln (March 1861 – 1865) Mr. Lincoln was well known for his fondness of animals and would rescue them on a regular basis
Here’s one account: “Oh,” said he, “when I saw him last” (there had been a severe wind storm), “He (Lincoln) had caught two little birds in his hand, which the wind had blown from their nest, and he was hunting for the nest”.
He finally found the nest, and placed the birds, to use his own words, “in the home provided for them by their mother”.
Said he, earnestly, “I could not have slept tonight if I had not given those two little birds to their mother’ Kenneth A. Bernard, Glimpses of Lincoln in the White House, Abraham Lincoln Quarterly, December 1952, p. 168.
Thomas Jefferson (1891 – 1809) Had a Mockingbird (now the Texas state bird) he bought for five shillings from one of the slaves of his father-in-law John Wayles.
Thomas Jefferson and his Mockingbird
In 1803 Jefferson paid $10 and $15 which was the going rate for the price of the “singing Mockingbirds”.
The person he bought them from saying the birds knew American, Scottish, and French tunes and could imitate all the birds of the woods.
He took one of them to France where the bird learned more sounds that added to his American repertoire.
Because the trip to Europe trip took a month the bird learned to imitate the creaking of the ship’s timbers.
Thomas Jefferson thought of Mockingbirds as “superior beings in the form of a bird.”
He had several Mockingbird pets, but his favorite was named “Dick,” a somewhat underwhelming name when compared to the names of his horses and dogs (Cucullin, Fingal, Bergere, Armandy, etc).
TJ cherished Dick “with a peculiar fondness,” and the bird returned his affection.
Dick often flew freely around the room and would perch on Jefferson’s shoulder to eat bits of food from his lips.
When it was time for the afternoon siesta, Dick would hop up the stairs to Jefferson’s bedchamber and literally sing him to sleep. (Monticello.org)
Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877) Had a parrot – not much else is known
“Grant’s [parrot] was an ill-tempered bird given to the family by Mexican Minister Matias Romero (perhaps as payback for the Mexican War) and quickly pawned off on friends.”
That the parrot did exist is for certain, however, his fate remains unknown.
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) Had several canaries and mockingbirds belonging to Mrs. Frances Cleveland
Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) The Teddy Roosevelt-era White House was crawling with pets, including roosters and parrots.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
with his macaw Eli in the White House conservatory
Once the president wrote to Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories, that he wasn’t so keen on his son Ted’s pet macaw a Hyacinth named Eli Yale “Eli is the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boilerplate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”
I would be remiss in not mentioning Pres. Roosevelt’s great friend and ally Winston Churchill who not only helped end World War II but was a lover and companion to a number of parrots.
Mrs. Madison would be seen entering a reception room with her macaw on her shoulder to help engage guests that were a bit introverted.
Unfortunately, none of this has been substantiated. The claims that he had a macaw named Charlie that lived to be 114 have been rejected by the Churchill estate although the bird was very good at spewing anti-Nazi epitaphs.
Lady Soams, Churchill’s daughter Churchill’s daughter does acknowledge that Churchill did have an African gray for about three years which was sold when the family left Chartwell at the start of the war to move to London before her father became England’s Prime Minister.
President Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) had several pets, the most notable of course being Old Ike, the tobacco-chewing ram. However, like several Presidents, Wilson also had several songbirds in the White House with him.
Wilson’s Warbler Songbird
Unfortunately, not much is known about Wilson’s birds. Unlike some more famous avian residents such as Jackson’s profanity-speaking parrot, Polly, Wilson’s birds led an unremarkable life.
Or at least, a life that didn’t interest reporters at the time.
President Wilson was responsible for signing into legislation that created the National Park Service, designed to protect the United States’ national parks and monuments.
As these parks are home to several species of bird, one could say he took his love of animals beyond the White House walls and made sure they’d be protected for many years to come.
Warren Harding (1921–23) Had a Canary named Bob
Calvin Coolidge (1923–1929) – Had Nip and Tuck, yellow canaries, Snowflake a white canary, Old Bill a Thrush, Enoch a Goose and a Mockingbird, name unknown.
Former President Coolidge with a parrot
as his wife and Mr. William Wrigley look on
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, (1953-1961) had a parakeet named gabby
John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963) – Had Robin, a canary, Parakeets named Bluebell (after a famous racehorse) and Marybelle
He's handled a 1000 birds of numerous species when they would visit their monthly birdie brunch in the old Portage Park (Chicago, IL) facility. The one with the parrot playground.
Mitch has written and published more than 1100 articles on captive bird care.
He's met with the majority of CEO's and business owners for most brands in the pet bird space and does so on a regular basis.
He also constantly interacts with avian veterinarians and influencers globally.
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