Monday, June 24, 2013

Thomas Jefferson's Favorite Pet

So did you know that in the fall of 1772, when Thomas Jefferson was newly married and had a one-month old child, he purchased a family pet. "For five shillings he bought a mockingbird...the first in a procession of singing birds that would always be part of Jefferson's household."

Of all the mockingbirds that Jefferson purchased, his favorite was reportedly a little songbird named Dick. In The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington socialite who was frequently invited to dine at the President's House, noted that Jefferson "cherished this bird with peculiar fondness, not only for its melodious powers, but for its uncommon intelligence and affectionate disposition, of which qualities he gave surprising instances." According to Mrs. Smith, this unsually intelligent little bird

was the constant companion of [Jefferson's] solitary and studious hours. Whenever he was alone he opened the cage and let the bird fly about the room. After flitting for a while from one object to another, it would alight on his table and regale him with its sweetest notes...Often when he retired to his chamber, it would hop up the stairs after him, and while he took his siesta, would sit on his couch and pour forth its melodious strains.

So what in the world does this have to do with presidential history and food? Well, not a whole lot, except that Jefferson was reportedly so fond of Dick that he would often let it "perch on his shoulder and take its food from his lips!"

Although Jefferson didn't leave records of the type of foods he usually fed to his little pet, experts say that mockingbirds generally feed on insects, wild fruit, weeds, and seeds. During the spring and summer, "caterpillars, grasshoppers, ants, bees, and other insects make up most of their diet," and, during the wintertime, they primarily eat vegetable matter. Because of their insect-eating habits, most people consider mockingbirds "more helpful than harmful," and no one can dispute the fact that these birds "truly sing for their supper," something that Jefferson took great delight in throughout most of his extraordinary life!