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The beauty, social
nature, intelligence and talking ability of parrots has long fascinated humans.
Historical records indicate that parrots and other birds with the capacity to
talk (mynahs, starlings, ravens) have been kept as pets dating back to the
ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman cultures.
In ancient Greece, the mynah was kept
among the aristocracy as a pet, and in India, the mynah has been considered
sacred for more than 2,000 years, and during a feast day, individual birds
were carted through the city by oxen.
In ancient Rome, pet parrots were
considered luxuries by wealthy Romans and they were often housed in cages
made from precious metals, tortoise-shell and ivory. Unfortunately, parrots
were also considered a delicacy during this time. The Romans introduced
parrots to much of the rest of Europe and trade in parrots became a regular
In the Middle Ages, parrots were owned by
the wealthy. They were valued by rulers such as Holy Roman Emperor
Frederick II (1194-1250), whose favorite was an Umbrella cockatoo that was
given to him by the Sultan of Babylon.
It is told in some journals of Spanish
generals, that tame parrots kept by Caribbean Islanders warned at least one
native village of the approach of Spanish conquistadors allowing the
villagers’ time to escape into the jungle.
In the sixteenth Century, Henry VIII of
England kept an African grey parrot at Hampton Court. (1509-1547) that
reportedly amused itself by calling the boatman from across the water to the
Palace who then had to be paid for their efforts.
The Duchess of Richmond and Lennox was
buried in Westminster Abbey in 1702 with her beloved parrot.
By the time of the Golden Age of Piracy (1680
– 1730) there was a well established trade in parrots. Usually animals aboard
a ship were used as provisions rather than as pets but fortunately parrots
weren’t a favorite meal. It is thought that the pirate & parrot cliché
originated from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”. However, the
historical journal of Pirate Captain William Dampier describes that in certain
cases pirates actually did take parrots on board, most likely because they
wanted to sell them at a profit to the high society of Europe. In Dampier's
journal it is mentioned that parrots were stored along with other animals and
provisions on the ship, while anchoring at a Caribbean island:
"The tame Parrots we found here were the
largest and fairest Birds of their kind that I ever saw in the West Indies.
Their colour was yellow and red, very coursly mixt; and they would prate very
prettily; and there was scarce a Man but what sent aboard one or two of them. So
that with Provision, Chests, Hencoops and Parrot-Cages, our Ships were full of
Lumber, with which we intended to
Other famous bird owners of the time
included: Marie Antoinette 1755-1793 (African Grey) and Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart 1756-1791 (Starling)
Queen Victoria (1837-1901) had an African
Grey that sang “God Save the Queen”.
What about birds in the White House? In
the early days of the republic, birds were popular First Pets.
Martha Washington, wife of our 1st
President, George Washington (1789-1791), had a parrot “Polly” who
George supposedly didn’t like. It is said that both George and the
parrot kept a close eye on each other when they were in the same room.
Thomas Jefferson (1801 – 1809) had a
mockingbird that was trained to ride on his shoulder and take food from
Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison
(1809-1817), had a green parrot that was rescued from the White House
when it was burned during the War of 1812.
Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) owned a
parrot “Pol” that was taught to curse in both Spanish and English. A
story has been told that the parrot attended Jackson’s funeral, where it
disrupted the service with a loud string of profanity.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) had a
Blue & Gold Macaw “ as well as a Hyacinth Macaw “Eli Yale”.
Ulysses S. Grant’s (1869-1877) son
had a pet parrot.
Rutherford Hayes (1877-1881) kept
Grover Cleveland’s (1885-1889 and
1893-1897) wife Frances had both canaries and mockingbirds.
William McKinley (1897-1901) had a
Double Yellow Amazon named “Washington Post”
Warren Harding (1921-1923) kept
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) had
canaries and a mockingbird.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) had
parakeets “Bluebell” and Marybelle”.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) had
Did you know that parrots played an
important role in WW I? In Paris, they had parrots man a post on top of
the Eiffel Tower where, due to their incredible sense of hearing, they could
detect and warn of the approach of enemy aircraft long before any human ear
could hear them.
In WW II, Churchill kept company with a
Blue & Gold Macaw named Charlie. As of an article written in 2004,
Charlie was still alive at the ripe old age of 104. The article stated
that Charlie can still be coaxed to repeat favorite sayings, such as
“[expletive] Hitler” and “[expletive] the Nazis.”