Poll the African Gray

The Case of the Cursing Parrot

This is the final post in our No Bird Brains Here blog series where we muse about how our discerning BOPS feathered residents have been subjects of some well-known quotes and explore some of the ones we believe would be of interest to them and our readers.

Today we feature an African Gray parrot named “Poll” (perhaps short for Polly) that was a companion bird to our 7th president, Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel. We don’t know a lot about Poll… but we do know Poll was an African Gray (sex and age unknown) originally acquired as a companion bird for Rachel with Andrew assuming care of the bird after she died.

We also know that Poll, well, had quite the potty mouth—with some documented accounts describing Poll’s vocabulary akin to that of a foul-mouthed sailor. So… having said that, the quote attributed to Poll is:


Although it was probably not the first time Poll had used questionable language, the bird’s profanity was officially documented in Volume 3 of Samuel G. Heiskell’s "Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History" papers. The incident was memorialized by the attending Reverend Norment, who said:

"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." The Reverend continued that "the presidential parrot was excited by the multitude and let loose perfect gusts of cuss words. People were horrified and awed at the bird’s lack of reverence."

Now in fairness to Poll, the profanity-laced outburst did happen during Andrew Jackson’s funeral at a time when the bird was stressed from the loss of an owner and agitated by a steady stream of unfamiliar mourners. And then, there was the fact that Poll learned the profanity from someone, perhaps President Jackson himself, widely described as a gentleman with a "salty" vocabulary.

Of all the creatures on this planet, only two can produce human language: humans and birds. Of the few species of birds capable of imitating human speech, parrots excel at it and have even been known to speak multiple languages. They are vocal learners, reproducing sounds by hearing and then imitating them.

Parrot and blackboard

It goes without saying that it is irresponsible to purposely teach a parrot an offensive vocabulary as—at a minimum—they will be challenging to rehome should it become necessary. However, it can (and does) happen that a parrot picks up some colorful language simply by overhearing what people say in their presence.

There is no guaranteed method of erasing a salty vocabulary from your parrot’s vocal repertoire, but some parrot experts have recommended that you don't inadvertently reward your bird by reacting with laughing, hushing or scolding them—and avoiding eye contact during an outburst. Some experts also recommend reinforced learning of acceptable words and phrases—and that this method may be augmented by playing an audio recording of the phrases for a set period each day.

We hope YOU have enjoyed this blog series and encourage you to SHOUT OUT to us if you would like to be a guest blogger or have topics that you would like to see us blog about.

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