Parakeets in the Pines

In flight, a jewel, in flocks, a mandala, Carolina parakeets animated primal Southern woods. 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. They were easily exterminated because when one bird fell to a gun, others descended around it, calling. Most inevitably, gunfire resumed. They were slaughtered.

Audubon kept one as a pet; Wilson found them in Natchez in 1811, but records are spotty. Chances are they were never that numerous, just fleeting, noisy spectacles in the temperate jungle that was the virgin South.

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 cage in which 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.

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