From A Popular Handbook of the Birds of the United States and Canada

by Thomas Nuttall 1903



Conurus carolinensis

CHAR. Head and neck yellow; forehead and sides of head orange red; body and tail green, the belly tinged with yellow; wings green and yellow, the edges tinged with orange red. In immature specimens the yellow of head and neck is replaced by green. Length about 53 inches. Nest. In dense woods or cypress swamp; placed on a fork near the end of branch or in a hole in a tree. When on a branch it is made of cypress twigs loosely woven, and a nest in a hole is usually lined with cypress twigs. When abundant the birds generally build in large colonies. Eggs. 2—5 (?); greenish white or creamy; 1.40 X 1.05.

Of more than 200 species now known to belong to this remarkable and brilliant genus, the present is the only one found inhabiting the United States; it is also restricted to the warmer parts, rarely venturing beyond the State of Virginia. West of the Alleghanies, however, circumstances induce these birds commonly to visit much higher latitudes; so that, following the great valley of the Mississippi, they are seen to frequent the banks of the Illinois, and occasionally to approach the southern shores of Lake Michigan.

Straggling parties even have sometimes been seen in the valley of the Juniata in Pennsylvania, and a flock, to the great surprise of the Dutch inhabitants of Albany, are said to have appeared in that vicinity. They constantly inhabit and breed in the Southern States, and are so far hardy as to make their appearance, commonly in the depth of winter, along the woody banks of the Ohio, the interior of Alabama, the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri around St. Louis, and other places, when nearly all other bird have migrated before the storms of the season.

The Carolina Parrakeets in all their movements, which are uniformly gregarious, show a peculiar predilection for the alluvial, rich, and dark forests bordering the principal rivers and larger streams, in which the towering cypress and gigantic sycamore spread their vast summits, or stretch their innumerable arms over a wide waste of moving or stagnant waters. From these, the beech, and the hackberry, they derive an important supply of food. The flocks, moving in the manner of wild Pigeons, dart in swift and airy phalanx through the green boughs of the forest; screaming in a general concert, they wheel in wide and descending circles round the tall buttonwood, and all alight at the same instant, their green vesture, like the fairy mantle, rendering them nearly invisible beneath the shady branches, where they sit perhaps arranging their plumage and shuffling side by side, seeming to caress and scratch each other’s heads with all the fondness and unvarying friendship of affectionate Doves. If the gun thin their ranks they hover over the screaming, wounded, or dying, and returning and flying around the place where they miss their companions, in their sympathy seem to lose all idea of impending danger.

When more fortunate in their excursions, they next proceed to gratify the calls of hunger, and descend to the banks of the river or the neighboring fields in quest of the inviting kernels of the cockle-burr, and probably of the bitter- weed, which they extract from their husks with great dexterity.

In the depth of winter, when other resources begin to fail, they, in common with the Yellow Bird and some other Finches, assemble among the tall sycamores, and hanging from the extreme twigs in the most airy and graceful postures, scatter around them a cloud of down from the pendant balls in quest of the seeds, which now afford them an ample repast With that peculiar caprice, or perhaps appetite, which characterizes them, they are also observed to frequent the saline springs or licks to gratify their uncommon taste for salt. Out of mere wantonness they - often frequent the orchards, and appear delighted with the fruitless frolic of plucking apples from the trees and strewing them on the ground untasted. So common is this practice among them in Arkansas Territory that no apples are ever suffered to ripen. They are also fond of some sorts of berries, and particularly of mulberries, which they eat piecemeal in their usual manner as they hold them by the foot. According to Audubon, they likewise attack the outstanding stacks of grain in flocks, committing great waste; and on these occasions, as well as the former, they are so bold or incautious ag readily to become the prey of the sportsman in great numbers. Peculiarity of food appears wholly to influence the visits and residence of this bird, and in plain, champaign, or mountainous countries they are wholly strangers, though common along the banks of all the intermediate watercourses and lagoons.

Of their manners at the interesting period of propagation and incubation we are not yet satisfactorily informed. They nest in hollow trees and take little if any pains to provide more than a simple hollow in which to lay their eggs, like the Woodpeckers. They are at all times particularly attached to the large sycamores, in the hollow trunks of which they roost in close community, and enter at the same aperture into which they climb. They are said to cling close to the sides of the tree, holding fast by the claws and bill; and into these hollows they often retire during the day, either in very warm or inclement weather, to sleep or pass away the time in indolent and social security, like the Rupicolas of the Peruvian caves, at length only hastily aroused to forage at the calls of hunger. Indeed, from the swiftness and celerity of their aerial movements, darting through the gleaming sunshine like so many sylvan cherubs decked in green and gold, it is obvious that their actions as well as their manners are not calculated for any long endurance; and shy and retiring from all society but that to which they are inseparably wedded, they rove abroad with incessant activity until their wants are gratified, when, hid from sight, they again relapse into that indolence which seems a relief to their exertions.

The Carolina Parrot is readily tamed, and early shows an attachment to those around who bestow any attention on its wants; it soon learns to recollect its name and to answer and come when called on. It does not, however, evince much, it any, capacity for mimicking human speech or sounds of any kind, and as a domestic is very peaceable and rather taciturn. It is extremely fond of nuts and almonds, and may be supported on the vegetable food usually given to other species. One which I saw at Tuscaloosa, a week after being disabled in the wing, seemed perfectly reconciled to its domestic condition; and as the weather was rather cold, it remained the greater part of the time in the house, climbing up the sides of the wire fender to enjoy the warmth of the fire. I was informed that when first caught it scaled the side of the room at night, and roosted in a hanging posture by the bill and claws; but finding the labor difficult and fruitless, having no companion near which to nestle, it soon submitted to pass the night on the back of a chair.

I fear that the story of this gorgeously apparalled bird is nearly finished. It is not quite exterminated yet, but of the large flocks that were once to be seen all over the Southern States, only a mere remnant can be found, and these are hidden amid the dense swamps of central Florida and along the lower valley of the Mississippi. The farmers and fruit-growers were obliged to kill large numbers, and later woman’s vanity and man’s greed have joined hands to carry on the slaughter. From the combined attack of such foes the remnant has but slight chance for escape.




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