The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropis carolinensis)
The only parrot native to the United States, the Carolina parakeet was small, about 12 inches (30 cm) long and weighed approximately 10 ounces (280 gm.). Mostly green, the crown of the head and around the eyes and bill was orange. The rest of the head and neck was yellow, with the body green and yellow. The tail was pointed. The sexes were similar. Link to a larger image.
Southeastern United States - ranged from central Texas to Colorado and southern Wisconsin across to the District of Columbia. A very common bird until the end of the 19th century. Two sub-species were recognized. The eastern subspecies, Conuropis carolinensis carolinensis, had more yellow on the wings and a bluer tint of green. Conuropis carolinensis ludoviciana was found on the western side of the Appalachian Mountain Ridge and was paler than C. c. carolinensis .
Eastern deciduous forest, cypress swamps, riverine forests.
Seeds of grasses, maple, elm, pine, etc and especially cocklebur (Xanthium sp.). After the forests were cleared for farms, the parakeets switched to seeds of apple, peach, mulberry, pecan, grape, dogwood, and grains.
Monogamous. Rookeries formed in cavities of deciduous trees. Typically laid 2 white eggs, 1.4" long. Altricial hatchlings.
Diurnal. As many as 30 birds would roost communally in hollow trees. Birds that could not fit in the hollow would hang on the outside of the tree.
Like many parrots, the Carolina parakeet had the unfortunate habit of returning to aid a wounded flock member. This made it possible for farmers to destroy whole flocks of the gregarious birds. Alexander Wilson, uncharacteristically for him, described their behavior in very human terms,
"..Having shot down a number, some of which were only wounded, the whole flock swept repeatedly around their prostrate companions, and again settled on a low tree, within 16 yards of the spot where I stood. At each successive discharge, though showers of them fell, yet the affection of the survivors seemed rather to increase; for, after a few circuits around the place, they again alighted near me, looking down on their slaughtered companions with such manifest symptoms of sympathy and concern, as entirely disarmed me."
Reasons for extinction: destruction of mature river-bottom forests, over hunting for meat, feathers, sport and pets. They were also considered agricultural pests and were mercilessly hunted by farmers. The Carolina parakeet's decline matched the passenger pigeon's. The last parakeet died in 1916 at the Cincinnati zoo.
- Day, David. The Doomsday Book of Animals. 1981. Viking Press. New York. ISBN 0-670-27987-0
- Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye. The Birder's Handbook. 1988. Simon & Schuster. New York. ISBN 0-671-65989-8
- Laycock, George. The Last Parakeet. Audubon. March 1969. pp21-25.
- Matthiessen, Peter. Wildlife in America .1987. Viking Penguin. New York. ISBN 0-670-81906-9
- World Wildlife Fund Guide to Extinct Species of Modern Times. Walter Beacham, Editor. Vol. 1. 1996. ISBN 0-933833-40-7.