The Carolina Parakeet, like its compatriot the Passenger Pigeon, declined from vast numbers to just a few individuals within the period of a century. This was once considered a pest species, with communal feeding habits, that ranged across the southern and eastern USA. It ruined orchards, wrecked corn fields, destroyed grain stocks and thereby aroused the anger of man. The species seems to have had few defensive skills.
When individuals were shot, their companions would fly squawking above the dead or wounded and eventually they would settle among their downed fellows. Naturally, they then made easy targets themselves. A parrot having the capability of inhabiting the USA is in itself something of a peculiarity, and there are surprising records of this species flying over snow-covered fields. In the years of its abundance the species liked forested lowland and showed a preference for land close to water. It lived mostly among buttonwood, cypress or sycamore and roosted in hollow stumps into which individuals would crowd and cluster together. At dawn the birds would flock to the top branches of the trees and then they stayed quiet for much of the day. Late afternoon and early evening would see great bursts of activity. When the birds decided to eat they would fly swiftly down to the chosen feeding area and arrive in a blaze of colour.
As far as breeding is concerned, there are conflicting descriptions. Some records tell of several parakeets laying their eggs together in tree holes, while others indicate that fragile nests were made from twigs and that these were sited in the forks of branches.
Two races of the species are commonly recognized, the nominate form and a western subspecies named ludovicianus. These two races are rather poorly distinguished, however. Through much of the nineteenth century the Carolina Parakeet was a particularly common bird. Even as late as the 1880’s it could be found in some numbers. Yet soon after this the species could hardly be found in the wild at all. As the century drew to its close, a few individuals still survived in captivity, most particularly a group in the same Cincinnati Zoo that provided a home to the last Passenger Pigeon. The very last Carolina Parakeets were a pair named Lady Jane and Incas, and by 1917 these two birds had been cage-mates for something like 32 years.
Then, Lady Jane died, leaving Incas the sole representative of the species. He survived, alone, for just a few months until February 1918, when he died in his cage surrounded by his keepers. They were in unanimous agreement: their bird had died of grief. His little body was frozen in a block of ice and sent for preservation to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington but, curiously, it never arrived or, if it did, it was stolen. Perhaps this hardly matters; there are several hundred specimens of this species in the world’s museums.
There are several alleged late records dating from the 1920’s and 1930’s that supposedly relate to Carolina Parakeets still surviving in the wild, but these are probably bogus.
Syst. Nat. 10: 97.