The Carolina parakeet is an extinct species of small green parrot native to the eastern, midwest and plains states of the United States. Though formerly prevalent within its range, the bird had become rare by the middle of the 19th century and the last confirmed sighting in the wild was in 1910. The last known specimen perished in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918 and in 1939 the species was declared extinct.
Carolina parakeets had the northern-most range of any known parrot. They were found from southern New England and New York and Wisconsin to Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Gulf of Mexico. They have also had a wide distribution west of the Mississippi River, as far west as eastern Colorado. Carolina parakeets lived in old-growth wetland forests along rivers and in swamps with large hollow trees including cypress and sycamore which provided roosting and nesting sites. They were also common on farmlands and in orchards.
Carolina parakeets were highly social and lived in huge, noisy flocks of as many as 200-300 birds. They were very energetic; they moved by walking, hopping, and climbing from one branch to another. Their flight was graceful but very noisy as parakeets cried loudly while flying and flocks could be heard from miles away. In order to maintain social bonds they engaged in mutual preening and scratching. They fed in the morning and at sunset; during the mid-day parakeets usually rested or bathed in the sun. They were usually quiet when roosting or communicated with chatters during feeding. If they sensed danger, Carolina parakeets made shrill warning cries.
Carolina parakeets were herbivores (frugivores, granivores). They mostly ate the seeds of forest trees and shrubs including those of cypress, hackberry, beech, sycamore, elm, pine, maple, oak, and other plants such as thistles and sandspurs. They also ate fruits, including apples, grapes, and figs, often from orchards.
Carolina parakeets were monogamous and formed very strong pair bonds that lasted for life. Their breeding season occurred in the spring. Pairs built their nests in a hollow tree, laying 2 to 5 round white eggs. Incubated lasted for 23 days. Chicks fledged at 18-19 days of age and reached reproductive maturity when they were 1 year old.
Humans had a contributory role in the extinction of the Carolina parakeet, through a variety of means. However, the main threat was deforestation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hunting played a significant role, both for decorative use of their colorful feathers, and for reduction of crop predation. This was partially offset by the recognition of their value in controlling invasive cockleburs (a toxic plant). Minor roles were played by capture for the pet trade. A factor that exacerbated the decline of these beautiful birds to extinction was the flocking behavior that led them to return to the vicinity of dead and dying birds (e.g., birds downed by hunting), enabling wholesale slaughter. The final extinction of Carolina parakeets in the early years of the 20th century is somewhat of a mystery, as it happened so rapidly. Vigorous flocks with many juveniles and reproducing pairs were noted as late as 1896, and the birds were long-lived in captivity, but they had virtually disappeared by 1904.
The Carolina parakeet is classified as Extinct (EX) on the IUCN Red List.
Carolina parakeets fed mainly on seeds of various plants and thus played an important role as seed dispersers throughout the ecosystem they lived in.