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Friday, June 17, 2022

The Carolina Parakeet

On a recent Mysteries Unlimited Podcast, I made reference to a parrot species that is native to the United States. So, I took a little time to gather up some details about this beautiful bird to share with everyone.

The Carolina parakeet is listed as extinct but there have been a handful of sightings after the classification. We will get into some of the reported sightings a little later in this post, but for now lets diving into more information about this bird.

This small parrot, about 13 inches long, had/has a green body, yellow head, reddish orange face and pale beak. It is the only indigenous parrot within its range, as well as one of only three parrot species native to the United States. There is a 4th parrot but it is still heavily debated. 

The Carolina parakeet was/is 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 mostly along rivers and in swampy areas with old growth trees.

I was totally unaware of this bird until a friend, Guy Luneau, told me a little about it. Being a person who likes to learn new things, well at least new to me, I kept this information in the back of my mind. As I researched it, I found several interesting things about this bird.

According to what I read the last known Carolina Parakeet died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918. The last wild sighting was somewhere around 1910, this is if you don't consider the handful of sightings that happened years later, we will talk about that more in a minute.

These birds were once numerous in parts of the United States. American naturalist and painter John J. Audubon concluded that the Carolina parakeet was probably poisonous as cats would die after eating them. The birds were known to have eaten the toxic seeds of cockleburs plants, this could be part of the reason.

The lifespan of these birds are speculated to be around 35 years. This was determined after a pair was kept for that length of time at the Cincinnati Zoo.

1906 Carolina Parakeet living as a pet.

The decline and extinction was mainly due to deforestation but other factors also played a role. Hunting played a significant role, both for decorative use of their colorful feathers, for example, adornment of women's hats, and for reduction of crop predation. Theie flocking behavior led them to return to the vicinity of dead and dying birds, which led to even more birds being shot.

Some birds were also captured for the pet trade industry. 

The final cause of the extinction remains somewhat a mystery but some type of disease is thought to be the cause.

Possible Sightings & New Developments

While the Carolina parakeet is currently listed as extinct there have been a handful of possible sightings over the years. 

The species was officially declared extinct in 1939 but sightings of flocks were reported many years later. There were creditable reports of Carolina parakeet flocks in swamplands from southern North Carolina to south-central Florida until the early 1940s. Many of these reports were from around the St. John’s River area. There was also a sighting near Council, North Carolina, in the spring of 1944.

There was a report that came out in 2009 stating that "The extinct Carolina parakeet has been rediscovered in Honduras", sadly this turned out to be nothing more than a tasteless April's fools prank.

There have been other possible sighting reported but most are sketchy or inconclusive at best. But all hope is not lost.

Recently, late 2019, Scientists Sequenced The Genome Of The Carolina Parakeet. While at first this may not seem like very exciting news, it really is. Sequencing the genome unlocked a lot of information we didn't know about the Carolina parakeet. One thing it unlocked was the information on just how the bird could eat the poison seeds of cockleburs plants without adverse effects. Eating these seeds made the Carolina parakeet poisonous to eat. We now know how the birds were able to eat these seeds and not die. 

During this process they discovered or confirmed that the Sun parakeet of South American, is the closes relative to the Carolina parakeet. Due to these similarities they are considering implanting the genome of the Carolina parakeet into a Sun parakeet’s embryo, which would, hopefully, result in the de-extinction of the Carolina parakeet. In other words, we can potentially bring back Carolina parakeet! 

Some question if we should even attempt this, but I say do it as fast as possible as humans had a big, if not the biggest, hand in causing the species to go extinct. But before we get too excited, there are some underlying factors...biological factors, that could cause a problem. The reproductive difference could be a hurdle for bring the species back.

There are also environmental aspects to consider. Temperature and plant life has changed somewhat in some of the areas where the Carolina parakeet lived. Human expansion has continued and changed the landscapes. There is also other bird species that might be competing for food and nesting areas.

So, any re-introduction of the species would have to be in a prime habitat to insure the birds survival.  Many point to a private reserve on Lake Okeechobee in Florida as the idea place for re-introduction. The plan, from what I gather, is to have around 200 birds in a controlled environmental lab. At some point around 100 of the birds would be released into the wild and monitor for about 3 years. The target population would be 500 birds at the end of the 3 years. At this point, and depending on if the target number had been met, a decision would be made as to release more birds. 

There is also the possibility that some bird would be vaccinated against poultry disease, if the target number was not reached. This might be a good idea to help insure the birds get off to a good start.

Some of these plans and ideas where in place before the official release of the genome sequencing. The idea to bring back a species has many variables and takes a lot of planning. Some of the article I read even dove into the tourism aspects of bring the bird back. From what I gather this is a serious undertaking and there were statements about having press conferences to keep the public informed.

According to Smithsonianmag.com, scientists from the New York State Museum and New Mexico State University will use the mapped Carolina parakeet DNA and an understanding of the bird’s diet, taken from preserved feathers, to reintroduce the species.

I wonder if cloning is an option? Seeing has there are some reproductive hurdles, this might be a alternative means to bring back the Carolina parakeet. 

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be out in the woods, or out fishing and see some Carolina parakeets? I think it would be great.



This post by Thomas Marcum, Thomas is the founder/leader of the cryptozoology and paranormal research organization known as The Crypto Crew. Over 25 years experience with research and investigation of unexplained activity, working with video and websites. A trained wild land firefighter and a published photographer, and poet

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