Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

The Tattle Tale

After several days of near seventy degree weather, we’ve finally settled back into a typical Missouri winter. The temperatures have dropped, and a widespread ice storm has coated trees and sidewalks. Most of us are staying inside.

When cold weather arrives, I buy an enormous bag of wild bird seed and fill up the feeder. We soon have a gathering of cardinals, blue jays, doves, sparrows, and even a red-headed woodpecker, dining right outside the window. This provides endless hours of viewing enjoyment for Bogey the cat, while Winston watches for random squirrels who like to crash our feathered friends’ party. Winston is great at chasing away squirrels.

Birds are fun to watch. I had a few pet parakeets when growing up, and our daughter had a cockatiel. We aren’t alone. Even a number of our country’s presidents were bird lovers. Some of these men included George Washington (parrot). Thomas Jefferson (mockingbirds). James Madison (green parrot). Yet none of them have a story quite as interesting as the parrot of President Andrew Jackson.

Jackson bought the African Grey as a gift for his wife, Rachel. After her untimely death, Jackson became Poll’s buddy and caretaker. Perhaps the president didn’t realize parrots live a very, very long time.

No likeness exists of Poll. This image of an African Grey is from

Poll proved it by outlasting his master.

In 1845, on the day of the president’s funeral at the Hermitage in Nashville, thousands of mourners arrived to pay their respects. Someone from the former president’s circle felt it only fair that Poll be allowed to say good-bye to his beloved friend, and allowed the bird to attend the funeral.

What happened next is best described by Reverend William Norment, the officiating clergyman.

“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.” According to Norment, people were “horrified and awed by the bird’s lack of reverence.”

To preserve the sensibilities of mourners, someone hustled the bird away from the shocking scene without delay.

Our most likely salty-tongued president, Andrew Jackson. (Image from The Miller Center)

The truth is, parrots don’t sit around on their perches making things up. They only imitate what they’ve heard. Sort of like a pre-technology recording device you can’t erase – at least, not humanely. This story has given me a totally new perspective on the personality of our seventh president.

He must have been one *#%! of a guy.


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  1. Pat–I’ve heard the phrase “out of the mouths of babes,” but this has that saying beat.

    Parrots don’t lie.

    Thanks for that bit of history. I wonder what phrases would be a regular in a parrot’s repertoire if they’re in the White House for our next president?

  2. Ha! I know Jackson has the reputation of having been short tempered and a little rough around the edges, but I’d never heard this story. It’s a good one!

    • Pat Wahler

      January 16, 2017 at 9:43 am

      Hi Sarah!

      I love reading about the pets of presidents past. The White House has contained quite a menagerie.

  3. I love fascinating bits of historical trivia like this! (I’m writing this one down–it could be a story starter!) Thanks, Pat!!

    • Pat Wahler

      January 16, 2017 at 9:44 am

      Hi Cathy!

      This one definitely made me smile, though I’m not sure how Andrew Jackson would feel about it.

  4. Loved this story, Pat. We have a bird feeder just outside the kitchen window and get the same array that you do. I especially love the red-headed woodpecker. He’s huge and comes in like a B52. lol

  5. I love to watch the birds in winter!
    Funny story Pat!

  6. I am not surprised by this story of Jackson. It’s a good one!

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