Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) or Carolina conure was one of only two parrots native to the United States (the other being the thick-billed parrot found in parts of Arizona and New Mexico). It was found from southern New York and Wisconsin to Kentucky, Tennessee and the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic seaboard to as far west as eastern Colorado. It lived in old-growth forests along rivers and in swamps. It was called puzzi la née (“head of yellow”) or pot pot chee by the Seminole and kelinky in Chickasaw. Though once common within its range, the bird was rare by the middle of the 19th century. The last confirmed sighting in the wild was of the ludovicianus subspecies in 1910. The last known specimen perished in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918 and the species was declared extinct in 1939.

The earliest reference to these parrots was in 1583 in Florida reported by Sir George Peckham in A True Report of the Late Discoveries of the Newfound Lands of expeditions conducted by English explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert who notes that explorers in North America “doe testifie that they have found in those countryes; … parrots.” They were first scientifically described in English naturalist Mark Catesby’s two volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands published in London in 1731 and 1743.

Carolina parakeets were probably poisonous—American naturalist and painter John J. Audubon noted that cats apparently died from eating them, and they are known to have eaten the toxic seeds of cockleburs.

There is new information about the Carolina Parakeet, recently published in  Biodiversity Data Journal by Dr Kevin Burgio, , Dr Colin Carlson, University of Maryland and Georgetown University, and Dr Alexander Bond, Natural History Museum of London. Using DNA from museum specimens, recorded sightings from a wide variety of sources over a period of 400 years, including the explorers Lewis and Clark, the researchers were able to piece together a more specific geographic range of the bird. This study shows how important the use of museum specimens can be.

According to  Wikipedia, “The Carolina parakeet had the northern-most range of any known parrot. It was found from southern New England and New York and Wisconsin to Kentucky, Tennessee and the Gulf of Mexico. It has also had a wide distribution west of the Mississippi River, as far west as eastern Colorado. Its range was described by early explorers thus: the 43rd parallel as the northern limit, the 26th as the most southern, the 73rd and 106th meridians as the eastern and western boundaries respectively, the range included all or portions of at least 28 states. Its habitats were old-growth wetland forests along rivers and in swamps especially in the Mississippi-Missouri drainage basin with large hollow trees including cypress and sycamore to use as roosting and nesting sites.

Only very rough estimates of the birds’ former prevalence can be made: with an estimated range of 20,000 to 2.5 million km2, and population density of 0.5 to 2.0 parrots per km2, population estimates range from tens of thousands to a few million birds (though the densest populations occurred in Florida covering 170,000 km2, so there may have been hundreds of thousands of the birds in that state alone).”

Map from Birdwatching

3 thoughts on “Carolina Parakeet

  1. Roger,

    Another interesting account.

    I particularly liked the use of the DNA of museum species to reconstruct a living history of an extinct species.

    What’s next recreating that extinct species?

    Cheers,
    Peter

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