Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)

The last known Carolina Parakeet (Cornuropsis carolinensis) died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918.

Carolina Parakeets were common birds in the eastern United States at the time of European settlement.  Sir Walter Raleigh mentioned their presence in the Carolinas in a 1596 book, comparing them to the parrots he had encountered in Central America.  It was, in fact, a species of parrot, the only species in its genus.

They were much larger than our modern image of domesticated “parakeets,” more similar in size and shape to the Mourning Dove—about a foot long with a wingspan just under two feet.  And they were brightly colored—a green body grading into a yellow neck and head, ending in a reddish orange crown and bill.  The birds were noisy and highly social, gathering together in large flocks, sometimes so large that early observers said they blocked out the sun.  They did not migrate, apparently, but spent a great deal of time in the air—they preferred to fly rather than climb, walk or hop, even just to turn around on a branch.  No one seems to know where they nested, but amateur ornithologists of the time thought they used cavities such as hollow trees.  Consequently, they were most common in forests, along wooded edges and forested river bottoms.

Carolina Parakeet (display mount at Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago; by James St. John)

From great abundance, they fell rapidly to low levels and eventually extinction by about 1900.  The causes of extinction are many, and somewhat mysterious.  The birds were hunted for food and for their beautiful feathers, highly desired for decorations on Victorian ladies dresses and hats. The birds aggregated in large flocks, which responded to alarm calls of individuals not by fleeing, but by flying to the location of the distressed birds.  Consequently, when hunters shot one bird, many others came to the sound—making massive killing easy.  Ecologists also surmise that the spread of honeybees, introduced into the eastern U.S. in colonial times, caused competition for nesting sites, and the birds lost out to the bees.  In the end, however, the last wild individuals probably succumbed to diseases caught from domestic poultry.

The last wild individual Carolina Parakeet was reportedly killed in Okeechobee County, Florida, in 1904.  The last known specimen, a male named Incas, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo, on February 21, 1918.  Curiously, the last specimen died in the same aviary where the last known Passenger Pigeon, Martha, had died four years earlier (read more here).

References:

Colvin, Thagard.  No date.  The Extinct Carolina Parakeet.  Outdoor Alabama.  Available at:  http://www.outdooralabama.com/extinct-carolina-parakeet.  Accessed February 20, 2017.

John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove.  The last Carolina Parakeet.  Available at:  http://johnjames.audubon.org/last-carolina-parakeet.  Accessed February 20, 2017.

Powell, William S.  2006.  Carolina Parakeet.  Encyclopedia of North Carolina.  Available at:  http://www.ncpedia.org/carolina-parakeet.  Accessed February 20, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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