In flight, a jewel, in flocks, a mandala, Carolina parakeets provided fleeting, noisy spectacles in the rain forest that was the virgin South.
It was a beautiful little bird; brilliant green, with a yellow head, and a line of red around the face. The wings were edged in orange. Audubon kept one as a pet; Wilson found them in Natchez in 1811, but records are spotty. Chances are they were never that numerous.
Their diet of green fruit doomed them, and they were easily exterminated; when one bird fell to a gun, others descended around it. Inevitably, gunfire resumed, and they were slaughtered.
Carolina parakeets died out in the early 20th century. The last known wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida, in 1904, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918.
This bird, Incas, died within a year of his mate, Lady Jane. In a case of what has been termed tragic irony, Incas died in the same aviary enclosure where the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died four years earlier.
By 1939, the Carolina parakeet had been declared extinct by most authorities. Some believed a few may have been smuggled out of the country and repopulated elsewhere, but that’s the same wishful thinking that buoys up news of ivory-bills.
And in some places, unicorns.