Robert Franklin Stroud, nicknamed the Birdman of Alcatraz, was a convicted murderer, imprisoned in US federal penitentiaries continuously from 1909 until his death in 1963.
First incarcerated in 1909 on McNeil Island, Washington, for 12 years for manslaughter, Stroud gained a reputation for violent behavior. In 1912 he moved to the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, where, in 1916, he fatally stabbed a guard. A sentence of hanging for first-degree murder was later commuted to life imprisonment, which he served in solitary confinement. In 1920, Stroud reportedly found a nest of young sparrows in the Leavenworth prison yard and raised them to adulthood, starting a pastime that progressed to rearing almost 300 canaries in his cell over many years, writing two books on birds, and earning him the name ‘Birdman’.
Prison staff, frustrated with Stroud’s activities and the unsanitary cell conditions caused by the birds, eventually succeeded in transferring him to Alcatraz Island penitentiary in 1942, where, despite his nickname, he was never permitted to keep birds. The name Birdman of Alcatraz gained wide recognition following the 1955 book of the same name by Tom Gaddis, and the 1962 movie starring Burt Lancaster.