WASHINGTON — Barack Obama spared Wednesday the life of Courage the turkey, who would have ended up on the First Family's dinner table for Thanksgiving if the US president had had his way.

"Thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha -- because I was planning to eat this sucker -- Courage will be spared," Obama said at the festive annual ceremony outside the White House.

With his daughters looking on, Obama announced Courage would be moving to Disneyland to "live out the rest of his days in peace and tranquility" after serving as grand marshal at the amusement park's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The bizarre ritual began 20 years ago when President George Bush pardoned one of the turkeys that are the traditional centerpiece of US dinners on Thanksgiving Day, which falls this Thursday.

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson "actually ate their turkeys, and you can't fault them for that," said Obama.

"That's a good-lookin' bird," he said, glancing over at Courage, a white-plumed turkey who weighed in at 45 pounds (20 kilograms).

"There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office," Obama said.

"And then there are moments like this when I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland," he added, drawing laughs from the crowd.