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The Carolina Parakeet

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A little research from brabec@csc.ncsu.edu regarding the Carolina Parrot

"Ever since I started keeping my own pet birds, I have been fascinated by the fact that there was once a variety of parrot native to the eastern United States. As I began painting birds, I started toying with the idea of painting a Carolina parakeet, to remember the beauty of these birds, and to remind people why avian conservation is so important. This spring, I decided to tackle my project, and I began by visiting N.C. State's library to do a little research. This article is a summary of the information that I found.

"As we tracked the vanished bird it seemed unreal that the parakeets had once flown in colorful flocks along the nearby Ohio river. Where a traveler saw one parakeet, he was likely to see a flock of a dozen or more. If disturbed in their feeding, they flashed into the sky as if all were triggered by the same instantaneous force." Audubon field editor George Laycock wrote this passage in his 1969 study of the demise of America's only native parrot.

The Carolina parakeet once ranged over most of the United States east of the great plains. The birds preferred to roost in hollow trees, usually deep in the heart of a swamp forest. At feeding time, the entire flock would head for the nearest field of cockleburs, where they would "settle in a green mantle over the weeds, crawl about them, and feed until satisfied." John James Audubon wrote, "the richness of their plumage, their beautiful mode of flight, and even their screams lend charm to our darkest forests and most sequestered swamps." I find myself trying to picture these sights whenever I am passing through the swampland areas of North Carolina. Indeed, it seems unreal.

The Carolina parakeet was a member of the conure family. They appeared somewhat similar to the Jenday conure. Their bodies were bright green, with a yellow head splashed with brilliant orange. From head to tail, they were about twelve inches long. Their beaks were sharp and quite strong for their size, apparently for opening tough- shelled seeds such as the cocklebur. Their eggs were light greenish white in color. Many females laid their eggs together, with each laying two or three. Parakeets would occasionally breed in captivity, but seldom with much success.

During a period of about 90 years, the parakeets gradually disappeared. When cockleburs were not available, these birds would flock to farmers' orchards and fields, rapidly destroying the precious crops. Farmers could easily retaliate: when one member of the flock was shot, the others would fly around over their fallen companion instead of leaving for safety. In this manner, the entire flock could easily be destroyed. These birds were also collected for their colorful feathers and because the young birds were considered good to eat. It is speculated that habitat destruction may have also contributed to their decline. By the 1890's, the parakeets were quite uncommon, and collectors eagerly caught the few remaining birds to sell them to zoos.

The death of the last Carolina parakeet is often incorrectly quoted as occurring in September 1914. Through careful research, Laycock has uncovered a more accurate account. The last known pair of parakeets were called "Incas" and "Lady Jane." They lived in the Cincinnati Zoo for some 35 years. In the late summer of 1917, Lady Jane passed away, leaving her mate listless and mournful. Alone, and the last of his kind, Incas quietly "died of grief" on February 21, 1918. "


George Laycock's article, "The Last Parakeet," appeared in Audubon magazine, March 1969.

JPG image of two specimens.

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