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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Extinct Birds

Carolina Parakeet, Conuropsis carolinensis

Carolina Parakeets perched in trees

Carolina Parakeets were small, colorful parrots that inhabited mature deciduous forests, cypress swamps, and riverine woodlands across the southeastern United States. They were found in the South Atlantic and Gulf States and up the Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers to the Platte and Great Lakes region, and in the east to Pennsylvania.

They foraged in tree canopies and favored riparian corridors and old-growth forests for a variety of seeds and fruits such as hackberries and mistletoe berries, flowers, buds, and occasionally insects during the breeding season in spring and early summer. They also fed on cockleburs, thistle, and cultivated crops like apples and maize during periods of scarcity.

Carolina Parakeets were adept climbers and agile fliers, using their strong bills to crack open seeds and nuts, which were abundant in their breeding habitats. Their social behavior facilitated communal feeding and nesting activities, often seen in large flocks.

Courtship among Carolina Parakeets involved aerial displays and vocalizations, with males often performing elaborate flights to attract females. Pair bonds were strong, and nesting typically occurred in natural tree cavities or excavated holes in softwoods, usually at heights ranging from 10 to 30 feet above ground.

Egg laying took place in early spring, with clutches averaging 3 to 5 eggs. Incubation lasted around 20 days, primarily handled by the female while the male provided food and guarded the nest. Hatchlings were altricial, blind, and featherless, initially relying entirely on their parents for warmth and nourishment, which included regurgitated food consisting of softened seeds and fruits.

Chicks began to develop feathers after about three weeks, becoming increasingly active and vocal. They learned to forage under adult supervision, gradually transitioning to a diet similar to that of the adults, including harder seeds that required practice to open.

Fledging occurred approximately six to seven weeks after hatching, with young birds relying on continued guidance from adults to master flight and foraging skills. As they matured, their diet expanded to include a wider variety of seeds, fruits, and nuts typical of their habitat.

The Carolina Parakeet faced numerous threats that led to its decline and eventual extinction. Habitat loss due to extensive deforestation for agriculture and urban development significantly reduced suitable nesting and foraging habitats. They were considered agricultural pests and targeted for their colorful feathers, which were highly prized in the millinery trade, and hunted for sport.

Efforts to protect the Carolina Parakeet were minimal during its decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Conservation awareness was nascent, and despite some local protection measures, such as hunting restrictions in certain states, these efforts were insufficient to halt the species’ decline.

In the 20th century, as the realization of their impending extinction grew, sporadic efforts were made to find and protect remaining populations. However, by the early 1900s, Carolina Parakeets had largely disappeared from their former range. A few captive individuals survived into the 1910s, but ultimately, the last known Carolina Parakeet, a female named “Inca,” died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918.

In subsequent decades, occasional reports of sightings fueled hopes that small, remnant populations might still exist in remote areas of the southeastern United States. However, extensive searches conducted by ornithologists and conservationists in potential habitats, including riverine forests and swamps, failed to find conclusive evidence of surviving birds.

Despite persistent rumors and unverified sightings, no credible evidence has emerged to suggest that Carolina Parakeets survived beyond the early 20th century.