February 21 – Carolina (Parakeets) On My Mind

Today’s Factismal: The last Carolina Parakeet died in 1918.

Imagine that you are walking along a river in the Carolinas during the early part of the last century. As you wander along, you see a sudden flash of bright yellow, red, and green and hear a loud cackling. Peering about, you see a flock of Carolina parakeets lounging about in an apple tree, tearing into the fruit to get at the seeds.

If you were a farmer of the time, you’d probably pull up your shotgun and start to get rid of what you saw as pests. Though it was the only parakeet native to North America, you wouldn’t care about that. You’d only care that the flock had eaten half of your apple crop and destroyed an acre of wheat last year. You might capture a few of the younger parakeets to sell as pets and you might spend some time salvaging the feathers to sell for ladies’ hats, but you’d mostly just be happy to get rid of the darn pests. And, within a few short years, you would be.

Audubon's painting of the Carolina parakeet

Audubon’s painting of the Carolina parakeet; the grey headed bird is a female

Like the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet was seen as a pest by most people. Both birds were incredibly destructive of crops and lived in huge, noisy flocks. But unlike the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet was fairly specific in its habitat.Carolina parakeets lived mainly in old-growth forests, near the same rivers and bottom lands that were prized by farmers for crops. As a result, the Carolina parakeet was hit with the double-whammy of habitat loss and conflict with farmers.

Even this might not have been enough to kill of the species if the pet trade had been more popular. For reasons unknown, even though the Carolina parakeet took to domestication like a duck to water, there was little interest in breeding the birds until it was simply too late. Today all that remains of this colorful native parakeet is about 700 stuffed examples, 16 skeletons, and paintings.

If you’d like to help prevent the extinction of other bird species, then why not help biologists map out their winter homes on FeederWatch?
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

7 thoughts on “February 21 – Carolina (Parakeets) On My Mind

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