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What's next for turkeys after they receive presidential pardon?

U.S. presidents have been pardoning turkeys in an annual ceremony dating back many years. But the good times for the turkeys don't end there.
What's next for turkeys after they receive presidential pardon?
Posted at 12:45 PM, Nov 20, 2023

On Monday, President Biden took part in the annual tradition of pardoning two turkeys at the White House. The birds, named Liberty and Bell, both from Minnesota, join a growing list of pardoned birds who live out a fairly posh existence after meeting the president.

"It's both an honor and a privilege to have them here. In a lot of ways these birds serve as ambassadors in general for agriculture," said Jesse Grimes, who oversees turkey management at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Chocolate and Chip — named by President Biden for his favorite ice cream — have the prestigious distinction of receiving a Presidential poultry pardon last year.

Aside from not becoming Thanksgiving dinner, receiving a presidential pardon has its perks. Chocolate and Chip are living out their days in a climate-controlled room. They have their own private pens and receive as much grain as they want. The two birds even have name tags on their enclosures which sit in plain view of a picture showing the birds on the White House front lawn in 2022.

"They've been fairly easy to take care of," Grimes remarked.

While neither of these 60-pound birds can fly, their popularity since meeting the president has soared. They regularly field visitors and dignitaries.

SEE MORE: President Biden pardons 2 lucky turkeys in annual White House ceremony

Peter Ferket, another researcher at North Carolina State University, accompanied Chocolate and Chip to Washington, D.C., last year, where the red carpet was rolled out for their arrival. Before being pardoned by the president, the birds spent a night in a presidential suite.

"That's what this presidential pardoning represents to America. We are all family. And this is one moment we can all put aside our differences," Ferket said about traveling with Chocolate and Chip.

"They were treated far better than I've ever been treated as a guest at a hotel," Ferket added.

Most historians believe former President John F. Kennedy started the pardon, although the White House says some trace it all the way back to Abraham Lincoln. But it was Ronald Reagan who cemented the presidential pardon as tradition. Reagan, looking to deflect attention away from the Iran Contra scandal, used his pardon as a way to drive the news cycle in a different direction.

As a presidential historian at Boston University, Tom Whalen says there's nothing that legally binds the president to pardon turkeys each year. But it’s become good optics for the office.

"It kind of brings people together in a way that they might not normally not do," Whalen said. 

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