We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Who is the Birdman of Alcatraz?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The Birdman of Alcatraz was a criminal who became famous for his interest in birds. Although he only served part of his lengthy sentence in Alcatraz, he was intimately associated with the prison, thanks to a 1955 book entitled The Birdman of Alcatraz, which was adapted into a film in 1962. Today, visitors to Alcatraz can see the cell where he spent 17 years before being moved to a medical facility in 1959.

Born Robert Franklin Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz was convicted of a brutal murder committed at age 18 in 1909. He was initially sent to McNeil Island, a prison on Washington State, but he proved to be too unruly for the prison, attacking other inmates and orderlies, so he was moved to Leavenworth Prison in Kansas in 1912. While at Leavenworth, Stroud continued to be extremely aggressive, ultimately killing a guard and receiving the death sentence.

Stroud's mother appealed to President Wilson for a commutation to life in prison, which was ultimately granted, but the warden at Leavenworth decided that he should be kept in solitary confinement. It was during his time in solitary that Stroud first became interested in birds, ultimately being allowed to keep an assortment of canaries in his cell and an adjoining cell.

The Birdman's pets ended up being subjects of scientific study for the undoubtedly bored prisoner. Stroud wrote two books about canary husbandry, and peddled a variety of substances which were meant to treat various health problems endemic to canaries. His birds also proved to be a health concern, as Stroud did not clean up after them, and by all accounts, his cells at Leavenworth were shockingly dirty. The warden repeatedly attempted to relocate Stroud, ultimately moving him to Alcatraz in 1942.

Although he is known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, Stroud did not actually keep birds in Alcatraz Prison. However, he had become well known, thanks to his books on canaries, and public interest created the demand for a book and later a film about him. Stroud reportedly never saw the film, although petitions requesting his release were circulated in theater lobbies. He died a year after the film came out.

The characterization of the Birdman of Alcatraz in the film is of a gentle, kindly man, portrayed by matinee idol Burt Lancaster. However, contemporary accounts suggest that Stroud was in fact a rather cruel, savage individual who was described by fellow inmates as a “jerk.” Among the writings he left after his death, there were a number of fantasy stories which featured graphic and rather unpleasant material, suggesting that the Birdman of Alcatraz was far from being the friendly man depicted on film.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon181439 — On May 29, 2011

Question: Did Robert Stroud convert to Christianity in his life time? Or accept Jesus as his savior?

By anon144957 — On Jan 21, 2011

Did he really get married in prison, like shown in the movie? Did his mother give up on him?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.