Throwback Thursday: The Carolina Parakeet 1918
One hundred and one years ago, today, the last known Carolina Parakeet, a small, green, neotropical parrot native to the United States, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.
It was the only indigenous parrot to the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast & Midwest states. They ranged from southern New York, to the southern tip of Wisconsin, to Eastern Colorado, down to Central & Eastern Texas, across the Gulf of Mexico to the seaboard and all parts in-between. Also called a Carolina Conure (conuropsis carolinensis), they had a bright yellow head with a reddish-orange face and a pale beak.
[…] lived in old forests along rivers. It is the only species classified in the genus Conuropsis. It was called puzzi la née (“head of yellow”) or pot pot chee by the Seminole and, kelinky in Chickasaw.
The last known wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida, in 1904, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918. This was the male specimen, called “Incas”, who died within a year of his mate, “Lady Jane”. Coincidentally, Incas died in the same aviary cage in which the last Passenger Pigeon, “Martha“, had died nearly four years earlier. It was not until 1939, however, that it was determined that the Carolina Parakeet had become extinct. Some theorists at this time, though, believed a few may have been smuggled out of the country in mid 20th century and may have repopulated elsewhere, although the odds of this are extremely low. Additional reports of the bird were made in Okeechobee County, Florida, until the late 1920s, but these are not supported by specimens.
The Carolina Parakeet is believed to have died out because of a number of different threats. To make space for more agricultural land, large areas of forest were cut down, taking away its habitat. The bird’s colorful feathers (green body, yellow head and red around the bill) were in demand as decorations in ladies’ hats. The birds were also kept as pets and could be bred easily in captivity. However, little was done by owners to increase the population of tamed birds. Finally, they were killed in large numbers because farmers considered them a pest, although many farmers valued them for controlling invasive cockleburs. It has also been hypothesized that the introduced honeybee helped contribute to its extinction by taking many of the bird’s nesting sites.
A factor that contributed to their extinction was the unfortunate flocking behavior that led them to return immediately to a location where some of the birds had just been killed. This led to even more being shot by hunters as they gathered about the wounded and dead members of the flock.
This combination of factors extirpated the species from most of its range until the early years of the 20th century. However, the last populations were not much hunted for food or feathers, nor did the farmers in rural Florida consider them a pest, as the benefit of the birds’ love of cockleburs clearly outweighed the minor damage they did to the small-scale garden plots. The final extinction of the species is somewhat of a mystery but, the most likely cause seems to be that the birds succumbed to poultry disease, as suggested by the rapid disappearance of the last, small but, apparently healthy and reproducing flocks of these highly social birds. If this is true, the very fact that the Carolina Parakeet was finally tolerated to roam in the vicinity of human settlements proved its undoing. The fact remains, however, that persecution significantly reduced the bird’s population over many decades.
From Birds of North America:
A consumer of sandspurs, cockleburs, thistles, pine seeds and bald cypress balls, as well as fruits, buds and seeds of many other plant species, the Carolina Parakeet was evidently a fairly typical psittacid with catholic feeding habits, loud vocalizations and highly social tendencies. However, unlike many other parrots, it was clearly a species well adapted to survive cold winter weather. Although generally regarded with favor by early settlers, the parakeet was also known locally as a pest species in orchards and fields of grain and, was persecuted to some extent for crop depredations. Its vulnerability to shooting was universally acknowledged and was due to a strong tendency for flocks not to flee under fire but, to remain near wounded con-specifics that were calling in distress.
[…] there are no known ways to evaluate many issues in Carolina Parakeet biology except through extrapolations from the biology of closely related species and through reasoned interpretations of the fragmentary writings of observers who have long since passed from the scene. Fortunately, early naturalists prepared a few accounts with substantial amounts of useful information.
From All About Birds:
Outside of the breeding season the parakeet formed large, noisy flocks that fed on cultivated fruit, tore apart apples to get at the seeds and, ate corn and other grain crops. It was therefore considered a serious agricultural pest and was slaughtered in huge numbers by wrathful farmers. This killing, combined with forest destruction throughout the bird’s range and, hunting for its bright feathers to be used in the millinery trade, caused the Carolina Parakeet to begin declining in the 1800s. The bird was rarely reported outside Florida after 1860 and was considered extinct by the 1920s.
I had no idea that my area of the U.S. had a native parrot species. It is a crying shame that this beautiful, lively bird was driven to extinction. They were easily tamed and had long life spans. Perhaps, there are some still in existence and carefully hidden. ~Vic
4 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: The Carolina Parakeet 1918”
February 22, 2019 at 12:18 AM
Hopefully, some are hidden away from humans. Beautiful birds…I would never have guessed they weren’t tropical.
February 22, 2019 at 3:32 AM
I hope so, too.
February 22, 2019 at 10:22 AM
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February 22, 2019 at 10:09 PM
So much had been destroyed by us. So much more damage still to be inflicted. Maybe less spending on walls and more spending on protecting habitats.