A greyish-blue parakeet belonging to the familiar ring-necked group once lived on the Mascarene island of Rodrigues. Curiously, it survived for much longer than most of the endemic bird species of the island. Certainly, individuals were still alive during the 1870’s, although it is clear that all were gone soon after that.
Little is known of the species but it seems that the two early chroniclers of the birds of Rodrigues, Francois Leguat and the anonymous author who is usually considered to be a certain Monsieur Tafforet, both saw this species and made observations of it. Certainly, both authors mention parakeets. One complication of these early reports is that Leguat mentioned seeing green as well as blue parakeets. There may have been different colour morphs of the species or the two colours might be explained by the occasional arrival of storm-blown individuals belonging to the more familiar Psittacula species. Possibly, such individuals could interbreed with the endemic birds. In addition to these complicating factors, there is skeletal evidence to show that more than one parakeet species once inhabited the island.
Leguat and his followers saw birds – presumably Newton’s Parakeets – feeding on the nuts of an olive-like tree, and they taught some of these parakeets to speak, surely an indication of just how tame such birds were. Apparently they became bi-lingual; they could speak in both French and Flemish! When Leguat and his little band of followers fled the island they took a parakeet with them on their voyage to Mauritius.
Although the species was obviously common during the period of Leguat’s visit (1691), it was rare by the nineteenth century. Just two specimens are known and both are in the collection of the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. Both were collected during the 1870’s, the last on 14th August 1875. The reasons for extinction are unknown, but it is likely that the bird’s original tameness and the infestation of the island by mammals were primary causes.
Ibis Ser. 3, no. 2: 33.