The last Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot species native to the Eastern U.S.

The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was the only parrot species native to the eastern United States. It was found from southern New York and Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, and 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.

At some date between 1937 and 1955, three parakeets resembling this species were sighted and filmed in the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. However, the American Ornithologists' Union analyzed the film and concluded that they had probably filmed feral parakeets. 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.

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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.