LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN CUCKOOS, GOATSUCKERS, HUMMINGBIRDS, AND THEIR ALLIES 1940
By Arthur Cleveland Bent
Family PSITTACIDAE: Parrots and Parakeets
(Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes)
Conuropsis carolinensis carolinensis (Linnacus)
MANY of the glories of North American bird life have gone, never to return. The spread of civilization, the selfish greed of human interests, and the lust to kill have wiped out some of the most spectacular and beautiful features in our formerly abundant bird life. The countless millions of passenger pigeons that formerly darkened the sky in their seasonal migrations are gone forever.
And the great flocks of gorgeous parakeets that formerly roamed over nearly all the eastern part of our country will be seen no more. This was the only representative of the parrot family that lived and bred within the United States; it gave a touch of tropical character to our avifauna and a vivid tinge of color to the landscape; its loss is much to be regretted. Never again may be seen the glorious sights witnessed by Wilson, Audubon, and other early writers, as great flocks of these gorgeous birds wheeled through the air, in close formation, their long tails streaming out in straight flight or spreading as they turned, and their brilliant colors, red, yellow, bright green, and soft blue, gleaming in the sunlight. As Wilson (1832) says: “They came screaming through the woods in the morning, about an hour after sunrise, to drink the salt water, of which they, as well as the pigeons, are remarkably fond. When they alighted on the ground, it appeared at a distance as if covered with a carpet of richest green, orange, and yellow: they afterwards settled, in one body, on a neighbouring tree, which stood detached from any other, covering almost every twig of it, and the sun, shining strongly on their gay and glossy plumage, produced a very beautiful and splendid appearance.”
Conuropsis carolinenses, as a species, covered a wide range in eastern North America, from the vicinity of the Great Lakes southward to Florida and the Gulf States, and from Colorado (rarely) to the Atlantic coast. For a full account, given in detail, of the former range of the species and its gradual disappearance, the reader is referred to a comprehensive article on the subject by Edwin M. Hasbrouck (1891). As the species has been divided into two subspecies since this was written, we shall consider here only the former distribution of the eastern race, Conuropsis carolinensis. The oldest and northernmost records, of what was probably this race, appeared in Bartram’s Fragments (1799) in the following words: “The two first of these birds were seen in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia, between thirty and forty years ago. The Psittacus, most probably the Psittacus pertinax, Illinois Parrot, or the Psittacus carolinensis, Carolina Parrot, has been occasionally observed in Shareman’s Valley, on Shareman’s Creek, a branch of the river Susquehanna, within twenty miles of the town of Carlisle.
This last fact seems to contradict the observation of Mr. William Bartram, who says, “The parakeets (Psittacus carolinensis) never reach so far north as Pennsylvania, which to me is unaccountable, considering they are a bird of such singular rapid flight, they could easily perform the journey In ten or twelve hours from North-Carolina, where they are very numerous, and we abound with nil the fruits which they delight in.” * * * I may add, that a very large flight of parakeets, which came from the westward, was seen a few years ago, about twenty-five miles to the north-west of Albany, in the State of New-York. The arrival of these birds in the depth of winter (January, 1780) was, Indeed, a very remarkable circumstance. The more ignorant Dutch settlers were exceedingly alarmed. They imagined, in dreadful consternation, that it portended nothing less calamitous than the destruction of the world.
DeKay (1844) places this New York record as occurring in 1795. The only record we have for New Jersey is one recently published by Warren F. Eaton (1936); Albert E. Hedden (1841—1915) told his son and nephew “of the occurrence of this species in East Orange, Essex County, New Jersey, when he was a boy. They placed the time between 1850 and 1860, and both recall exactly the same story. ‘The Paroquets occurred probably twice at least in hot weather (I suspect September) and were considered very destructive to the small household apple orchards, maintained by the family at that time. The birds occurred in flocks and tore the apple fruit apart, extracting the seeds.”
There seems to be no record for Delaware, but in Audubon’s time they were found as far north as the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland, where a flock was seen and specimens were shot as recently as September 1865 (Smith and Palmer, 1888). They apparently were common in the Carolinas up to 1850, or perhaps 1860, but must have disappeared from there soon after that. For Georgia, there seem to be no records since 1849.
In Florida, the species made its last stand; parakeets were evidently common throughout the State up to the 1860’s, but during the next 20 years all observers reported them as becoming rarer and more restricted in range. In the early 1890’s it was still common in certain remote localities in Florida. Arthur H. Howell (1932) has this to say about the last records of this vanishing bird: E. J. Brown reported the birds plentiful in March, 1896, near Campbell, Osceola County. Dr.E. A. took 6 specimens on Padget Creek, Brevard County, April 18, 1901. Apparently the last stronghold was in the vicinity of Taylor Creek, on the northeastern side of Okeechobee Lake. Here on February 29, 1896, Robert Ridgway collected 13 specimens, and in April, 1904, Frank M. Chapman saw two flocks aggregating 13 birds (1912, pg. 318). W. W. Worthington hunted along both sides of Taylor Creek on March 26, 1907, without seeing any Paroquets. * * * Capt. F. W. Sams, an old resident of Florida, told Dr. Amos W. Butler that he saw a flock of 8 or 10 Paroguets in 1909 at Cabbage Slough, on the west side of Turnbull Hammock, about 12 or 15 miles southwest of New Smyrna. E. Stewart Hyer, of Orlando, reports seeing one bird at Istokpoga Lake on February 16, 1910. A late and apparently authentic record is published b Chapman (Bird Lore, 1915, p. 453) on the authority of W. J. F. McCormick, who claims to have seen about a dozen birds in March and April, 1915. Henry Redding, who knows the birds well, reported a flock of about 30 seen on Fort Drum Creek in February, 1920.
The causes that led to the extermination of the parakeet are not hard to find. It was a bad actor, regarded by fruit growers and agriculturists as a destructive pest, doing extensive damage to their crops. Consequently it was slaughtered in enormous numbers on every opportunity. It was more or less hunted as a game bird, for it was abundant and its flesh was said to be very palatable. It was shot in enormous numbers for mere sport, or for practice. Hundreds were captured by professional bird catchers and sent north, as cage birds or pets, and many were killed for their plumage. Furthermore, it has always retreated before the spread of civilization and seemed incapable of surviving in settled regions, probably for the reasons mentioned above. W. K D. Scott (1889) says that “they were wantonly mischievous and cut hundreds of young green oranges, peaches, and the like, from the trees almost as soon as the fruit was formed.” Many were shot by farmers in their cornfields, where the birds had formed the bad habit of feeding on the tender corn on the ears, thus destroying or injuring, a large part of the crop.
According to Audubon (1842) they ate or destroyed almost every kind of fruit indiscriminately and on this account were always unwelcome visitors “to the planter, the farmer, or the gardener.” He says: The stacks of grain put up in the field are resorted to by flocks of these birds, which frequently cover them so entirely, that they present to the eye the same effect as if a brilliantly coloured carpet had been thrown over them. They cling around the whole stack, pull out the straws, and destroy twice as much of the grain as would suffice to satisfy their hunger. They assail the pear and apple-trees, when the fruit is yet very small and far from being ripe, and this merely for the sake of the seeds. As on the stalks of corn, they alight on the apple-trees of our orchards, or the pear-trees in the gardens, in great numbers; and, as it through mere mischief, pluck off the fruits, open them up to the core, and, disappointed at the sight of the seeds, which are yet soft and of a milky consistence, drop the apple or pear and pluck another, passing from branch to branch, until the trees which were before so promising, are left completely stripped. * * * They visit the mulberries, pecan-nuts, grapes, and even the seeds of the dog-wood, before they are ripe, and on all commit similar depredations. * * * Do not imagine, reader that all these outrages are borne without severe retaliation on the part of the planters. So far from this, the Parakeets are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off the fruits or tearing the grain from the stacks, the husbandman approaches them with perfect ease, and commits great slaughter among them. All the survivors rise, shriek, fly around about for a few minutes, and again alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The gun is kept at work; eight or ten, or even twenty, are killed at every discharge. The living birds, as if conscious of the death of their companions, sweep over their bodies, screaming as loud as ever, but still return to the stack to be shot at, until so few remain alive, that the farmer does not consider it worth his while to spend more of his ammunition. I have seen several hundreds destroyed in this manner in the course of a few hours.
This fatal habit of hovering over their fallen companions has helped, more than any one thing, to bring about their extermination. Their social disposition has been their undoing. C. J. Maynard (1890) says of this trait: “This is not a mere liking for company, as they are actually fond of one another, for, if one out of a flock be wounded, the survivors attracted by its screams, will return to hover over it and, even if constantly shot at, will not leave as long as their distressed friend calls for assistance; in fact, I have seen every individual in a flock killed one after the other, and the last bird betrayed as much anxiety for the fate of its prostrate friends which were strewed upon the ground, as it did when the first fell.”
Nesting.—Nothing very definite seems to be known about the nesting habits of the Carolina parakeet. No competent ornithologist has ever seen a nest. Even Wilson and Audubon, who lived in the days when these birds were so abundant, never saw a nest; and all they wrote about it was based on hearsay. Most observers seemed to agree that the parakeets nested in hollow trees, but some of the accounts were rather fantastic. For example, Wilson (1832) wrote: “One man assured me that he cut down a large beech tree, which was hollow, and in which he found the broken fragments of upwards of twenty parakeets’ eggs, which were of a greenish yellow colour. The nests, though destroyed in their texture by the falling of the tree, appeared, he said, to be formed of small twigs glued to each other, and to the side of the tree, in the manner of the Chinmey Swallow.” Audubon (1842) says: “Their nest, or the place in which they deposit their eggs, is simply the bottom of such cavities in trees as those to which they usually retire at night. Many females deposit their eggs together.”
Maynard (1896) was told by some cedar hunters that a large number of parakeets nested in a hollow in a huge cypress tree in the depths of a great cypress swamp. He offered them a good sum to procure the eggs, which they attempted to do; but, on opening the tree, about which they saw a large number of the parakeets, they were disappointed to find only young birds. H. B. Bailey (1883) had in his collection a set of two eggs, which he felt sure were eggs of the Carolina parakeet. “The eggs, which were taken April 26, 1855, were deposited in a hollow tree, on the chips at bottom. One of them was sent to Mr. Ridgway who has kindly compared it with identified eggs, and who confirm€ the identification.” There was an apparently authentic set in the John Lewis Childs (1906b) collection, taken in the wild, of which he writes: The set consists of three eggs which were taken on April 2, 1896, by Dr. U. E. Pendry. They were found in a cavity of a sycamore tree forty feet up on the outskirts of the Great Swamp near the head of the Caloosahatchee River and west of Lake Okechobee, De Soto County, Florida. Dr. Pendry was not sure of the identity of these eggs, as he saw no Paroquets at the nest, but they were in the swamp and he had frequently seen and taken young birds in the same locality. * * * The eggs were sent tous for identification, and there seems to be not the slightest doubt but that they are genuine. They measure as follows: 1.35 x 1.06-1.26 x 1.06, 1.2 x 1.05 [34.3 by 27.1, 32.1 by 27.1, and 31.8 by 26.8 millimeters].
William Brewster (1889) published the following account, which seemed to him “to rest on evidence sufficiently good to warrant its publication.” He questioned everybody he met about the nesting of the parakeet and was told by two professional hunters of alligators and plume birds that they had “seen Parrakeets’ nests, which they described as flimsy structures built of twigs and placed on the branches of cypress trees.” He goes on to say: This account was so widely at variance with what has been previously recorded regarding the manner of nesting of this species that I considered it, at the time, as a mere fabrication, but afterwards it was unexpectedly and most strongly corroborated by Judge U. L. Long of Tallahassee. The latter gentleman, who, by the way, has a very good general knowledge of the birds of our Northern States, assured me that he had examined many nests of the Parrakeet built precisely as above described. Formerly, when the birds were abundant in the surrounding region, he used to find them breeding in large colonies in the cypress swamps.
Several of these colonies contained at least a thousand birds each. They nested invariably in small cypress trees, the favoriteposition being on a fork near the end of a slender horizontal branch. Every fork would be occupied, and he has seen as many as forty or fifty nests in one small tree. Their nests closely resembled those of the Carolina Dove, being similarly composed of cypress twigs put together so loosely that the eggs were often visible from the ground beneath. The twigs of the cypress seemed to be preferred to those of any other kind of tree. The height at which the nests were placed varied from five or six feet to twenty or thirty feet. Mr. Long described the eggs as being of a greenish white color, unspotted. He did not remember the maximum number which he had found in one set, but thought it was at least four or five. He had often taken young birds from the nests to rear or to give to his friends.
Several times parakeets have been known to breed in captivity or attempt to do so. Robert Ridgway brought several birds from Florida that laid at least 13 eggs in captivity; most of the eggs now in American collections are the product of these birds. Dr. William C. Herman writes to me that parakeets bred successfully in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden, where some were kept for 20 or more years; the last one died in September 1914. “Some of these birds bred in captivity. Dozens of young birds wereraised, especially when others recently captured were added.” Dr. Nowotny (1898) purchased a pair of Carolina parakeets inVienna and tried to breed them in captivity. The female laid in all ten eggs; the first five were put in a breeding box, but never hatched, as they were “picked and sucked,” presumably by the birds. Two more eggs were placed under a hen but were destroyed through carelessness. The other three were placed in the breeding box and incubated by the parakeets; three young were hatched, but they did not live to maturity.
Eggs.—It is not definitely known how many eggs were laid by the Carolina parakeet in a normal set, but indications point to two and three as being the commonest numbers. Bendire (1895) says, of the eggs laid by Mr. Ridgway’s birds in captivity None of these eggs can be caued round; they vary from ovate to short ovate, and are rather pointed. They are white, with the faintest yellowish tint, ivory-like and quite glossy; the shell Is rather thick, close grained, and deeply pitted, not unlike the eggs of the African Ostrich (Struthio camnelus), but of course not as noticeable. Holding the eggs in a strong light, the inside appears to be pale yellow. * * * The deep pitting is noticeable in every specimen, and there can be no possible doubt about the identity of these eggs. * * * There is no difficulty whatever In distinguishing these eggs from those of the Burrowing Owl or the Kingfisher, both of which are occasionally substituted for them. Mr. Childs (1905) figures the three eggs sent to him by Mr. Ridgway and describes them as “color pure white with ivory gloss surpassing that of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.” One of Mr. Ridgway’s eggs, in the John E. Thayer collection, I should describe as ovate in shape and dull white in color, with a very slight gloss. The measurements of 24 eggs average 34.23 by 27.80 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 37 by 38; 33 by 30.2, 32.1 by 27.1, and 34.4 by 25.8 millimeters.
Young—We do not how much about the development and care of the young in the wild state, but in captivity the birds seem to be very careless or indifferent in the care and feeding of the young. Dr. Nowotny’s eggs were hatched, after continuous incubation, in about 19 or 20 days, but the young all eventually died from neglect. Mr. Ridgway wrote to Mr. Childs (1905), under date of November 13, 1902; “My female Parakeet laid only six eggs the past summer and I shall never get any more, as the bird is now dead. The first she laid is the one I sent you. The remaining five hatched, but I have only two young ones left, a rat having carried off one, another was starved by the parents when half grown, and the third I gave to a friend who had time and disposition to take care of it in order to save it from starving.”
Plumages.—I have never seen the downy young or nestling plumages and doubt if there are any such in collections. Audubon (1840) says that “the young are at first covered with soft down, such as is seen on young Owls. During the first season, the whole plumage is green; but towards autumn a frontlet of carmine appears. Two years, however, are passed before the male or female are in full plumage.” His plate shows a bird with a wholly green head. Dr. Nowotny’s (1898) young birds, when between five and six weeks old, “had already attained green wings and tail; the older one also had red feathers above the bill and on the under parts. * * * The oldest young one had already attained many dense strong red feathers above the bill at the age of eight weeks”. This does not agree with Audubon’s account, or with C. J. Maynard’s (1896) who says, of the young of the year: “Head and neck, wholly green, and the tail is short.” He says, of the nestling: “One of my collectors, who found the young in the nest, informs me that they are covered with a grayish down.” I have never seen a young bird with a wholly green head; those that I have seen, some nine in number, were in first winter plumage, and were collected between October 7 and April 3, indicating that this plumage is worn all through the first winter. These are much like adults, but with no yellow on the head, thighs, or anal region, and only greenish yellow on the edge of the wing; the forehead and front of the crown up to the front edges of the eyes are “flame scarlet” or “cadmium orange,” shading off to dull brownish orange on the lores and to dull brown on the cheeks. Specimens taken in February show yellow feathers coming in on the head, and progressive changes toward maturity continue all through the spring months until, by summer, the yellow head is fully acquired. Audubon (1840) says that the young bird requires two years to attain its full plumage, and Maynard (1896) says that it is acquired during the third year, but the material examined does not indicate this. Adults have a complete molt in fall, from September to November. Dr. Frank K Chapman’s (1890) captive bird began to molt in September “and by November had acquired an entirely new plumage.” Arthur T. Wayne (1910) says that they “commence to molt about October 5, and require at least six weeks to acquire their perfect plumage.”
Food.—Much has been said about the food of the Carolina parakeet in the earlier part of this account, as its feeding habits were so destructive in fruit orchards and grain fields that the birds were unmercifully slaughtered by the planters, thus hastening the extermination of the species. But before the lands were so extensively cultivated, the parakeets lived on their natural, wild food. C. J. Maynard (1896) writes: “I observed a large flock of Parakeets moving along the ground. * * * At first, I could not make out what they were doing but soon found that they were busily engaged in eating cockspurs, the seeds of a species of grass which grows very abundantly in old fields. They walked quite well for birds having such short legs and, in pressing forward, moved side by side in a long rank, looking exactly like miniature soldiers. After a few moments, something startled them and they arose, wheeled about, darting rapidly up and down, precisely like pigeons, at the game time, uttering loud cries; then settled quietly down again and resumed their meal, as composedly as if nothing had occurred to interrupt. This is the only time that I ever chanced to see the Parokeets feed on the ground but I have been informed by the inhabitants of Florida that they are very fond of cockspurs and will frequently alight in the fields in order to eat them. Early in winter, they visit the swamps, where they feed upon the cypress balls. Then it is very difficult to find them as they often remain for weeks in the impenetrable fastnesses of the vast wooded tracts which, at this season, are submerged in water. Later, about the first of February, the Parokeets emerge from the swamps in small flocks and enter the open woods to search for the seeds of the pine cones which are then ripe. At this time, they may be met with quite frequently but the best opportunity to procure specimens occurs about the middle of February, when they may be found in large companies, feeding upon the green seeds of the maples and elms which grow along the rivers.
Dr. Chapman (1890) found these parakeets feeding on the prairies near the Sebastian River in Florida, of which he says: “About these “prairies” and at the borders of small streams or low ground grew in abundance a species of thistle (Cirsium Lecontei, T. & G.) the seeds of which, so far as I could learn, constituted at this season (February) the entire food of Conurus. Not a patch of thistles did we find which had not been visited by them, the headless stalks showing clearly where the thistles had been neatly severed by the sharp chisel-like bill, while the ground beneath favorite trees would be strewn with the scattered down. * * * Two days passed before I again met Conurus, and this time to better advantage. It was a wet and drizzling morning when we found a flock of six birds feeding on thistles at the edge of a “prairie.” Perched on the leafless branches of the tree before us, their brilliant green plumage showed to the best advantage, as we approached through the pines without difficulty. Several were skillfully dissecting the thistles they held in their feet, biting out the milky seed while the released fluffy down floated away beneath them. There was a sound of suppressed conversation; half articulate calls. * * *
There was an evident regularity in the habits of the birds we afterwards observed—in all about fifty, in flocks of from six to twenty. At an early hour they left their roost in the hummock bordering the river and passed out into the pines to feed, always, so far as I observed, selecting thistle patches, and eating the seeds only when in the milky stage. At about ten o’clock they returned to the hummock and apparently to some favorite tree, here to pass the rest of the morning and early afternoon, when they again started out to feed, returning to the roost just before sunset. A flock of these birds feeding among the thistles is a most beautiful and animated sight; one is almost persuaded not to disturb them. There is constant movement as they fly from plant to plant, or when securing thistles they fly with them in their hills to a neighboring tree, there to dissect them at their leisure.
The load rolling call was apparently uttered only when on the wing, but when at rest, or feeding, there was a loud conversational murmur of half articulate, querulous notes and calls. Cottam and Knappen (1939) examined the stomach and crop of one bird, of which they say: “Except for two rabbit hairs, two bits of the bird’s own feathers, and two fragments of an indeterminable ant, which formed only traces, the eutire content consisted of the remains of no fewer than thirty-two seeds of loblolly pine (Pinus taeda).”
Behavior.—Audubon (1842) writes: “The flight of the Parakeet is rapid, straight, and continued through the forests, or over fields and rivers, and is accompanied by inclinations of the body which enable the observer to see alternately their upper and under parts. They deviate from a direct course only when impediments occur, such as the trunks of trees or houses, in which case they glance aside in a very graceful manner, merely as much as may be necessary. A general cry is kept up by the party, and it is seldom that one of these birds is on wing for ever so short a space without uttering its cry. On reaching a spot which affords a supply of food, instead of alighting at once, as many other birds do, the Parakeets take a good survey of the neighborhood, passing over it in circles of great extent, first above the trees and then gradually lowering until they almost touch the ground, when suddenly re-ascending they all settle on the tree that bears the fruit of which they are in quest, or on one close to the field in which they expect to regale themselves.
They are quite at ease on trees or any kind of plant, moving sidewise, climbing or hanging in every imaginable posture, assisting themselves very dexterously in all their motions with their bills. They usually alight extremely close together. I have seen branches of trees as completely covered by them as they could possibly be. If approached before they begin their plundering, they appear shy and distrustful, and often at a single cry from one of them, the whole take wing, and probably may not return to the same place that day.
Maynard (1896) says: I have remarked that the Parokeets scream very loudly when flying; so loudly, in fact, that their shrill cries can be heard for miles. They come dashing along, moving in a most eccentric manner; now near the ground, then high over the tree tops, seeming about to alight a dozen times but still without settling, each in the company endeavoring to excel the other in producing the most discordant yells, when they will all pitch, at once, into some tree and a sudden silence ensues. So great had been the din but a second before that the comparative stillness is quite bewildering, then too, the large flock of highly colored birds, lately so conspicuous, have disappeared completely. I well remember my first experience of this nature; I stood, gun in hand, watching the evolutions of a large company es it wheeled about, awaiting an opportunity to shoot, when, of a sudden, they all alighted in a large live-oak which stood a few rods away. I cautiously approached the tree, ready to slaughter half the flock at a single discharge, if possible, when, what was my surprise upon going within a suitable distance, not to perceive a bird. Neither could I see so much as a feather of the desired game although I walked around the tree several times and even went beneath its branches to peer up between them. After spending some time in these fruitless efforts, my patience became quite exhausted and I threw a large oyster shell up into the tree. This certainly produced an effect, not just what I intended, however, for, in an instant, out darted the entire body of screaming birds hut on the opposite side of the thick tree; thus I could only stand and watch them as they disappeared In the neighboring swamp.
Audubon (1842) says: Their roosting-place is in hollow trees, and the holes excavated by the larger species of Woodpeckers, as far as these can be filled by them. At dusk, a flock of Parakeets may be seen alighting against the trunk of a large sycamore or any other tree, when a considerable excavation exists within it. Immediately below the entrance the birds all cling to the bark, and crawl into the hole to pass the night. When such a hole does not prove sufficient to hold the whole flock, those around the entrance hook themselves on by their claws and the tip of the upper mandible, and look as if hanging by the bill. I have frequently seen them in such positions by means of a glass, and am satisfied that the bill is not the only support used in such cases.
Dr. William C. Herman writes to me, of the parakeets in the Cincinnati Zoological Garden: “The parakeets were well adapted to being caged; some were in the zoo for 20 or more years. A hollow tree was provided for the birds for roosting. Here they hung for the night; that is, they used their beaks for holding to the interior of the tree trunk wad so rested for the night.”
Range.-Southeastern United States; probably extinct.
The range of the Carolina parakeet extended north to casually northeastern Colorado (Little Thompson River); eastern Nebraska (Omaha and Brownville); casually Iowa (Spirit Lake and Decatur County); casually southern Wisconsin (Lake Koskonong and Waukesha County); Ohio (Columbus and Summit County) ; and Pennsylvania (Juniata River and Shermans Valley). East to Pennsylvania (Shermans Valley); casually the District of Columbia (Washington); casually West Virginia (White Sulphur Springs); South Carolina (Pine Barrens and Edding Island); Georgia; and Florida (Oklawaha River, Wekiva River, and Micco); south to Florida (Micco, Lake Okeechobee, Tampa, Tarpon Springs, Old Town, and Tallahassee); southern Louisiana (Bayou Sara and St. Mary); and central Texas (Brownwood). West to central Texas (Brownwood); eastern Oklahoma (Caddo and Fort Gibson); an& casually eastern Colorado (Fort Lyon, Denver, and the Little Thompson River). Casual records.—Several of the records that figure in the range as above outlined can be considered as little more than casual occurrences, but this status must be accorded a flock reported 25 miles northwest of Albany, N. Y., in January 1780, and to flocks observed “many years ago” at Buffalo and West Seneca, N. Y. There also is an indefinite record of this species in East Orange, Essex County, N. J., sometime between 1850 and 1860.
Systematists now consider the species as separable into two geographic races, the true Carolina parakeet, C. c. carolinensis, being the eastern form that ranged west to Alabama, while the Louisiana parakeet, C. c. Ludovicianus, ranged westward from Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio.
Egg dates.—Florida: 2 records, April 2 and 26.
CONUROPSIS CAROLINENSIS LUDOVICIANSUS Gmelin
In describing this pale race of Conuropsis, Outram Bangs (1913) says: “For many years it has been common knowledge among the older set of American ornithologists that the Carolina paroquet divided into two very distinct geographical races.” He says of its characters: “A much paler bird than Conuropsis c. carolinensis (Linn.); yellow portions of head and neck pale lemon yellow or picric yellow, instead of lemon yellow or lemon chrome; green of upper parts much paler and more bluish, verdigris green to variscite green on wing coverts and sides of neck; under parts dull green-yellow glossed with variscite green; bend of wing and feathers of tibia paler, purer yellow, less orange.” Mr. Ridgway (1916) adds: “Greater wing-coverts, proximal secondaries, and basal portion of outer webs of primaries more pronouncedly and more extensively yellowish, contrasting more strongly with the general green color; size averaging decidedly greater.” The latter author says of its former range: “Formerly inhabiting the entire Mississippi Valley (except open prairies and plains), from West Virginia to eastern Colorado, north to the southern shores of Lake Erie and Lake Michigan, south to the Gulf coast.”
This parakeet is now, doubtless, quite extinct throughout all this wide range. Though formerly abundant over most of this region, it had begun to disappear even in Audubon’s time, for he (1842) says: “Our Parakeets are very rapidly diminishing in number; and in some districts, where twenty-five years ago they were plentiful; scarcely any are now to be seen. At that period, they could be procured as far up the tributary waters of the Ohio as the Great Kenhawa, the Scioto, the heads of the Miami, the mouth of the Manimee at its junction with Lake Erie, on the Illinois River, and sometimes as far north-east as Lake Ontario. * * * At the present day, very few are to be found higher than Cincinnati, nor is it until you reach the mouth of the Ohio that Parakeets are met with in considerable numbers. I should think that along the Mississippi there is not now half the number that existed fifteen years ago.”
Myron H. Swenk (1934), in a comprehensive paper on this parakeet of the interior, sums up its disappearance in the following words: “By 1840 they were practically gone in West Virginia and Ohio. They disappeared from Indiana about 1858 and from Illinois about 1861. The Colorado birds were gone by about 1862. In Kansas they were gone by about 1867, and during the years 1875— 1880 they disappeared from Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Their last stand was made in Missouri and along the Arkansas River and its tributaries in Arkansas and central Oklahoma, but by 1890 they were practically gone in these localities also. * * * The very last records of living Interior Carolina Paroquets are of lone individuals shot at Atchison, Kansas, in 1904, and seen at Notch, Stone County, Missouri, in 1905 (vide Widmann, * * * 1907).”
Since that time there have been at least two sight records reported. Harry Harris (1919) says that “in some unaccountable manner a lone bird strayed into the Courtney bottoms in 1912 and was observed by Bush for several weeks before it finally disappeared.”
Dr. Daniel S. Gage has sent me a letter from Prof. Elliot B. Downing, of the University of Chicago, reporting that he saw a Carolina parakeet in the sand-dune region on the shore of Lake Michigan, not far from Chicago, on June 11, 1912, His letter states that he saw the parakeet “on a Juneberry tree, a small one, on the margin of an interdunal pond. I remember the observation very clearly. I was within 20 feet of the bird and had a chance to observe it with my bird glasses for 10 or 15 minutes. I am therefore quite confident that there was no error in the observation.” Both of these records might well be based on escaped cage birds, as there were a number in captivity at that time, and the wild birds had long since disappeared.
Wilson (1832) suggests certain reasons why the inland parakeet enjoyed a wider and more northern distribution than its relative on the Atlantic coast. He writes, “The preference, however, which this bird gives to the western countries, lying in the same parallel of latitude with those eastward of the Alleghany mountains, which it rarely or never visits, is worthy of remark; and has been adduced, by different writers, as a proof of the superior mildness of climate in the former to that of the latter. But there are other reasons for this partiality equally powerful, though hitherto overlooked; namely, certain peculiar features of country to which these birds are particularly and strongly attached; these are, low, rich, alluvial bottoms, along the borders of creeks, covered with a gigantic growth of sycamore trees, or button-wood; deep, and almost impenetrable swamps, where the vast and tower-cypress lifts its still more majestic head; and those singular salines, or, as they are usually called, licks, so generally interspersed over that country, and which are regularly and eagerly visited by the Paroquets. A still greater inducement is the superior abundance of their favorite fruits. That food which the paroquet prefers to all others is the seeds of the cockle bur, a plant rarely found in the lower parts of Pennsylvania or New York; but which unfortunately grows in too great abundance along the shores of the Ohio and Mississippi.
Nesting.—We have no more positive information on the nesting habits of this parakeet than we have of the eastern race, beyond the following statement by Col. N. S. Goss (1891) “Their nests are usually placed in holes or hollow cavities of trees. in the spring of 1858, a small flock reared their young in a large hollow limb of a giant sycamore tree, on the banks of the Neosho River, near Neosho Falls, Kansas. I have never been able to procure their eggs.”
Eggs.—What few eggs of this race are in existence are indistinguishable from those of the Carolina Parakeet. The measurements of the only four eggs that I have been able to locate are 36 by 27, 35 by 27.5, 35 by 26.5, and 36 by 26.5.
Food—Prof. Myron H. Swenk (1934) says of the food of this parakeet: The food of the Interior Carolina Paroquet, though all vegetable was highly varied, and they seemed to delight in the fruits of spiny or thorny plants. One of the most relished foods was the seeds of the cocklebur (Xanthium canadense), and they fed also on the seeds of the sand-bur grass (Cenchrus tribuloides) and of the various species of thistles (Cirsium). In the fall they ate the seeds of the honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and the tender buds and fruit of the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera). In the spring they ate the buds of the red maple (Acer rubrum) and birch (Betula spp.). During the summer they ate much fruit, especially mulberries, wild grapes, hackberries and pawpaws, and, after the planting of cultivated apple orchards, were likely to visit them and peck out the apple seeds in the fall, sometimes doing injury in this way. Corn in the milk was also sometimes injured, but not extensively. Other favorite items of food were the seed balls of the sycamore and beech and pecan nuts. In the South cypress seeds were much eaten.
Dr. Amos W. Butler (1892), quoting from W. B. Seward, thus describes the parakeet’s method of eating the cocklebur seeds: “In eating, the bird picked up a burr with its beak; this was then delivered to one foot raised to receive it. Then one end of the burr was cut off with the sharp-ended under beak, the burr being held with the foot and the underside of the upper beak while two small kernels were extracted with the assistance of the tongue and the husk was thrown away.” Dr. Butler, elsewhere (1898), adds to the items of food mentioned above cherries, persimmons, black-gum berries, haws, and acorns.
Voice.—Mr. Swenk (1934) says: “The common call notes consisted of a loud, shrill series of rapidly uttered, discordant cries, given incessantly when the birds were in flight, resemblingqui-qui, qui, qui, qui, qui-i-i-i, with a rising inflection on each i and the last cry drawn out. Another call resembled the shrill cry of a goose and was frequently uttered for minutes at a time. When at rest they had a low, conversational chatter.”
Winter.—The Carolina parakeet was evidently a very hardy bird, a remarkable quality, quite unique among parrots. Wilson (1832) saw them “in the month of February, along the banks of the Ohio, in a snow storm, flying about like pigeons, and in full cry.” Dr. Butler (1898) was furnished the following note by Prof. John Collett: “In 1842, Return Richmond, of Lodi (Parke County), Ind., cut down”, in the cold weather of winter, a sycamore tree some four feet in diameter. In its hollow trunk be found hundreds of Parakeets in a quiescent or semi-torpid condition. The weather was too cold for the birds to fly or even to make any exertion to escape. Mr. Richmond cut off with his saw a section of the hollow trunk some five feet long, cut out a doorway one foot by two in size, nailed it over a wire screen of his fanning mill, rolled this cumbersome cage into the house and placed in it a dozen of the birds. They soon began to enjoy the feed of fruit, huckleberries and nuts he gave them, and he had the pleasure of settling absolutely the disputed question of how they slept. At night they never rested on a perch, but suspended themselves by their beaks, and with their feet on the side of their cage. This was repeated night after night during their captivity.