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 – apparently the feeling was mutual and 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 granddaughter Nelly 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 travelers visit.
James Madison (1809 -1817) Dolly Madison owned a Macaw that out lived 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.
President Roosevelt’s good friend and ally was quite fond 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.
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!
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.
James Buchanan (1857–1861) He had a terrible presidency but owned a cool pair of bald eagles given to him is 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.
Thomas Jefferson and his Mockingbird
Rutherford B. Hayes (1877 – 1881) Hayes had four Canaries with clipped wings (and a Mockingbird). It’s said one of the canaries regularly spent time between one of his cats paws (in a 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”. When he came up with the party they laughed at him. 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.
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 pet Mockingbirds, 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 bed chamber and literally sing him to sleep. (Monticello.org)
Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877) Had a parrot – not much else is known
Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897) Had several canaries and mockingbirds belonging to Mrs. Frances Cleveland
William McKinley (1897–1901) Had a Double Yellow Headed Amazon parrot named “Washington Post” who would finish whistling the songs McKinley started whistling like Yankee Doodle Dandy
Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
with his macaw Eli in the White House conservatory
Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909) The Teddy Roosevelt-era White House was crawling with pets, including roosters and parrots.
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 boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion.”
Warren Harding (1921–23) Had a Canary named Bob
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. 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.
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
John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963) – Had Robin, a canary, Parakeets named Bluebell (after a famous racehorse) and Marybelle
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963 – 1969) – Owned Lovebirds
written by mitch rezman
approved by catherine tobsing