Avian Expert Articles

Presidents & Their Pet Parrots

thumbnailCan you imagine a parrot perched in the White House? It’s probably happened at some point during our country’s history; after all, some of our past presidents had parrot companions during their presidencies. There have been no presidential parrots in recent years, but there certainly were some in our recent past. Here is a list of presidents who really did have parrots during their White House days.

The First Presidential Parrot

Our nation’s first president, George Washington (1789-1797) was more of a dog lover, but First Lady Martha Washington appears to have been the parrot person in the family. According to GeorgeWashingtonWired.org, Martha had a green parrot named Snipe. (Some historical accounts reference a parrot named Polly.) Also mentioned in historical accounts is that up until the days before Martha Washington’s death, there was a cockatoo residing in the back piazza of Mount Vernon, which her tending physician later described as being quite fond of her. (Interesting fact: President Washington is the only president never to have resided in the White House.)

Parrots From The 1800s

Another president whose wife had a fondness for the feathered kind is our fourth president, James Madison (1809-1817). According to www.firstladies.org, Dolley Madison was known to enter a reception room with her parrot on her shoulder as a way to interact with shy guests who were invited to the White House. The green parrot apparently outlived both James And Dolley Madison.

The next time you pull out a twenty dollar bill, perhaps a potty-mouthed parrot might come to mind. That’s because our seventh president, Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), apparently had a habit of swearing, and, thus, so did his parrot, Poll (also referenced as Pol). Poll was said to be an African grey parrot (surprise, surprise!) and was originally bought as a gift for his wife, Rachel, but President Jackson became the parrot’s caretaker after her death.

Out of all the presidents, Jackson’s parrot stands out for his reported behavior at the ex-president’s funeral in 1845. Poll was brought to the funeral because he was a close companion of Jackson. Unfortunately, the bird had to removed from the funeral service because he started swearing and yelling profanities … which he likely learned from the Jackson himself.  Here’s a quote from Rev. William Menefee Norment, who attended the funeral: “Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet, got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.”

Other presidents who owned parrots include our 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877), described in historical references simply as owning a parrot among other pets, and our 25th president William Mckinley (1897-1901). McKinley’s parrot is said to have been a yellow-headed Mexican parrot (Amazon parrot) named Washington Post that could whistle “Yankee Doodle.” 

Parrots From The 1900s

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), our 26th president, had a menagerie of pets, including a hyacinth macaw named Eli Yale. Fortunately, there’s a photo of his son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. with Eli in the White House conservatory, 18 December 1902. It’s said that Roosevelt was somewhat intimidated by the parrot’s beak. There is also a photo of his oldest daughter photographed with an Amazon parrot, although, interestingly, the bird is simply referred to as a parrot.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), our 35th president, also had an assortment of pets, including a canary named Robin and a pair of parakeets named Bluebell and Marybelle, which would have been a good fit for the Kennedy’s young children. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), our 36th president, was the last president on record as sharing his White House days with parrots. He apparently had lovebirds.

Canary Connections

A number of our past presidents were keen on canaries. Zachory Taylor, our 12th president (1849-1850), had a short-lived canary that they called Johnny Ty, who is said to have died shortly after they tried to pair him with a mate only to discover it, too, was a male. (Male canaries can become quite hostile to one another, especially during breeding season, which is why they shouldn’t be housed together.)  Rutherford Hayes, our 19th president (1877-1881), had four canaries. Grover Cleveland, our 22nd president (1885-1889) and also our 24th president (1893-1897), was also a canary owner. Warren Harding, our 29th president (1921-1923), had a relatively short term in office, but at least he had his canary named Bob to keep him company. Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, showed his sense of humor when he named his canary pair Nip and Tuck, and he aptly named his white canary Snowflake.  

Dog’s seem to rule the White House as of lately (President Barak Obama shares the White House with Bo, the Portuguese water dog), which begs the question … would you be more inclined to vote for a presidential candidate if you knew he (or she) had a pet parrot?

2 thoughts on “Presidents & Their Pet Parrots

  1. Hi Laura Doering,

    This is wonderful. I love it. Bookmarked and will print later for my grandkids.

    Thank you so much. Interesting and fun.


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