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Conuropsis carolinensis

Conuropsis carolinensis, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Aves
Subclassis: Carinatae
Infraclassis: Neornithes
Parvclassis: Neognathae
Ordo: Psittaciformes
Familia: Psittacidae
Subfamilia: Psittacinae
Tribus: Arini
Genus: †Conuropsis
Species: †Conuropsis carolinensis


Conuropsis Salvadori, 1891

The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis)[1] was the only parrot species native to the eastern United States. It was found from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf of Mexico, and lived in old forests along rivers. It was the only species at the time classified in the genus Conuropsis. It was called puzzi la née ("head of yellow") or pot pot chee by the Seminole and kelinky in Chikasha (Snyder & Russell, 2002).

The last wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida in 1904, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on 21 February 1918. This was the male specimen "Incas," who died within a year of his mate "Lady Jane." Coincidentally, Incas died in the same aviary cage in which the last Passenger Pigeon, "Martha," had died nearly four years prior.[2] It was not until 1939, however, that it was determined that the Carolina Parakeet had become extinct.

At some date between 1937 and 1955, three parakeets resembling this species were sighted and filmed in the Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia. However, the American Ornithologists Union analyzed the film and concluded that they had probably filmed feral parakeets. Additional reports of the bird were made in Okeechobee County, Florida, until the late 1920s, but these are not supported by specimens.

The species may have appeared as a very rare vagrant in places as far north as Southern Ontario. A few bones, including a pygostyle found at the Calvert Site in Southern Ontario, came from the Carolina Parakeet. The possibility remains open that this particular specimen was taken to Southern Ontario for ceremonial purposes (Godfrey 1986).
Reasons for extinction

he Carolina Parakeet died out because of a number of different threats. To make space for more agricultural land, large areas of forest were cut down, taking away its habitat. The bird's colorful feathers (green body, yellow head, and red around the bill) were in demand as decorations in ladies' hats. The birds were also kept as pets and could be bred easily in captivity. However, little was done by owners to increase the population of tamed birds. Finally, they were killed in large numbers because farmers considered them a pest, although many farmers valued them for controlling invasive cockleburs. It has also been hypothesized that the introduced honeybee helped contribute to its extinction by taking many of the bird's nesting sites.[3]

A factor that contributed to their extinction was the unfortunate flocking behavior that led them to return immediately to a location where some of the birds had just been killed. This led to even more being shot by hunters as they gathered about the wounded and dead members of the flock.

This combination of factors extirpated the species from most of its range until the early years of the 20th century. However, the last populations were not much hunted for food or feathers, nor did the farmers in rural Florida consider them a pest, as the benefit of the birds' love of cockleburs clearly outweighed the minor damage they did to the small-scale garden plots. The final extinction of the species is somewhat of a mystery, but the most likely cause seems to be that the birds succumbed to poultry disease, as suggested by the rapid disappearance of the last, small, but apparently healthy and reproducing flocks of these highly social birds. If this is true, the very fact that the Carolina Parakeet was finally tolerated to roam in the vicinity of human settlements proved its undoing (Snyder & Russell, 2002). The fact remains, however, that persecution significantly reduced the bird's population over many decades.

The Louisiana subspecies of the Carolina Parakeet, C. c. ludovicianus,[4] was slightly different in color to the parent species, being more bluish-green and generally of a somewhat subdued coloration, and went extinct in much the same way, but at a somewhat earlier date (early 1910s). The Appalachian Mountains separated these birds from the eastern C. c. carolinensis

In museums

About 720 skins and 16 skeletons are housed in museums around the world (Luther, 1996). Of the 49 supposed egg specimens McKinley (1977) accepted 20 as certainly and 7 as probably correctly assigned to this species. Five eggs collected in Florida on April 30, 1927 were controversially attributed to this species (FSM 87234 - 3 eggs - and 89434 - 2 eggs). These are not accepted as valid by McKinley (1977) based on their small size and early date of collection, but molecular analysis could possibly determine whether these are in fact eggs of Carolina Parakeets.

A fossil parrot, Conuropsis fratercula,[5] was described based on a single humerus from the Miocene Sheep Creek Formation (possibly late Hemingfordian, c.16 mya, possibly later) of Snake Creek, Nebraska (Wetmore, 1926). However, it is not altogether certain that this species is correctly assigned to Conuropsis (Olson, 1985), but some authors consider it a paleosubspecies of the Carolina Parakeet. This is almost certainly erroneous given the long distance in time, and probably based on a misunderstanding of the original description. Therein, C. fratercula is called a "new subspecies" but fratercula is consistently applied as a species-level name throughout the publication, and the fossil is correctly referenced thus in the discussion:

"The present species is of peculiar interest as it represents the first known parrotlike bird to be described as a fossil from North America." (Wetmore 1926; italics added)

Parakeets in the United States

The extinction of the Carolina Parakeet represents the irrevocable loss of eastern North America's only truly indigenous parrot. However, populations of a South American parrot species, Myiopsitta monacha, the Monk Parakeet, or Quaker Parrot, began to breed in the same region from the 1960s onwards. This species - introduced accidentally or intentionally - has as of 2009 established flocks in several states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Illinois, Ohio (Cincinnati area), Kentucky (Northern/Greater Cincinnati area), Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.

Smaller feral colonies of several other species of parrots and parakeets have since established themselves in various locations of the USA, including downtown Pasadena, California. Large flocks are well noted in the San Diego region, particularly in El Cajon and the Ocean Beach area. The African Lovebird has established itself in parts of the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. The Mexican Thick-billed Parrot also used to range into Arizona before its population declined in the 20th century; attempts to reintroduce them have until now not met with any lasting success.


* BirdLife International (2004). Conuropsis carolinensis. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 11 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is listed as extinct

* Godfrey, W. Earl (1986). The Birds of Canada. (Revised Edition) Page 303. National Museum of Natural History. ISBN 0-660-10758-9

* Luther, Dieter (1996): Die ausgestorbenen Vögel der Welt (Die neue Brehm-Bücherei 424) (4th ed.). [in German] Westarp-Wissenschaften, Magdeburg; Spektrum, Heidelberg. ISBN 3-89432-213-6

* McKinley, Daniel (1977): Eggs of the Carolina Parakeet: a preliminary review. Bird-Banding 48(1): 25–37. PDF fulltext

* Olson, Storrs L. (1985): The fossil record of birds: Section VIII. K. Psittaciformes. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 120-121. Academic Press, New York.

* Snyder, N. F. R. & Russell, K. (2002): Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis). In: Poole, A. & Gill, F. (eds.): The Birds of North America 667. The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA. doi:10.2173/bna.667

* Wetmore, Alexander (1926): Descriptions of additional fossil birds from the Miocene of Nebraska. American Museum Novitates 211: 1-5. PDF fulltext


1. ^ Conuropsis, from "Conurus", an obsolete name of the genus Aratinga (cf. conure and see also Synonyms above), and "-opsis", "of similar appearance to". carolinensis, "from Carolina".
2. ^ Cokinos, Christopher (June 2005). "The Carolina Parakeet: Glimpses of a Vanished Bird". Birder's World. http://www.birdersworld.com/brd/default.aspx?c=a&id=432.
3. ^ Ellis, Richard (2004). No Turning Back: The Life and Death of Animal Species. New York: Harper Perennial. pp. 170. ISBN 0-06-055804-0.
4. ^ ludovicianus, "from Louisiana".
5. ^ fratercula, from Latin for "little brother". This was a smaller bird, three-quarters the size of the Carolina Parakeet.

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