When I think of extinction I picture a bird such as the wonderful Dodo bird which became extinct in 1662. The Dodo was a flightless bird and may have weighed twenty to forty pounds. The bird lived on the island of Mauritius and was first spotted by Dutch sailors in 1598. Unfortunately it was hunted to extinction and all we have are illustrations and accounts which may or may not be accurate.
Photo of Extinct Dodo Bird
So what does the extinct Dodo bird have to do with the title of my article? Nothing really, except that I recently read information on an extinct species of bird that used to inhabit this area and most of the Southeastern United States. The Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis, lived in old forest areas and along rivers. As far as we know the last captive one of its species died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.
Conuropsis Carolinensis became extinct in 1918
The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot species native to the Eastern United States. The Seminole Indians called the bird puzzi la nee meaning “head of yellow” and the Chickasaw Tribe called the parakeet Kelinky. Two Native American tribes inhabited the Jocassee area of South Carolina, the Oconee and the Eastatoe, the Eastatoes were known as the Green Birds and were probably named after the Carolina Parakeet. The last known sighting of the Parakeet was in 1904 in the Eastatoe Valley in South Carolina.
So what did happen to the Carolina Parakeet and why are we no longer delighted by flocks of wild parrots in the Southeastern states of North America? There are many theories and maybe all of them contribute together to the extinction of this beautiful bird. We know that their feathers were much sought after for making ladies hats. The bird’s colorful feathers from the green body, yellow head, and red from the bill area were much admired. But that alone would probably not have contributed to their complete extinction.
Other likely reasons for their extinction were loss of habitat, large areas of forest where the parakeets nested were cut down to make space for farm land. Unfortunately farmers did consider them a pest and many of them were wiped out but the flip side to this is that they actually fed on the very invasive cocklebur weed. Farmers who understood this benefit would allow the birds to nest in the area unharmed. Another behavior that contributed to their extinction was a response that led them to soon return to a place where some of the flock had just been killed. This led to even more being hunted and killed as they gathered close to other wounded and dead parakeets.
One last explanation for the Carolina Parakeet’s extinction is that they may have finally been wiped out by disease such as poultry disease. Unfortunately their very social behavior may have led to their extinction. In the Travels of William Bartram, he states, “they (the Carolina Parakeets) are easily tamed, when they become docile and familiar, but never learn to imitate the human language.”
Carolina Parakeets by John James Audubon and R. Havell from
Audubon’s Birds of America (1827-1838).
The extinction of the Carolina Parakeet was due to the rapid cultivation of North America. Fortunately we have naturalists such as John James Audubon who painted these birds and left us a visual reminder of something we have lost permanently from our natural world.