From THE NATURALIST’S LIBRARY
Edited by Sir William Jardine, B.A.R.T.,
VOL X, Ornithology, Parrots
by Prideaux John Selby, Esq.
The great body of the Psittacidae, as already observed, are natives of the intertropical climates but the species now under consideration is one of the few that occurs in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It is a native of the North American continent, inhabiting the United States to a latitude as high as 42°. Such, at least, was the case some fifteen or twenty years ago, when Alexander Wilson was engaged in tracing out the history of the birds inhabiting the States; for we find, on turning to his delightful pages, that then it not only prevailed throughout Louisiana and the shores of the Mississippi and Ohio, but also those of their tributary waters as high as Lake Michigan, in lat. 42° N.
We learn, however, from a living author (J. J. Audubon), scarcely less graphic or original in his descriptive powers, that of late years these birds have rapidly diminished in number, and that they are now almost banished from districts where formerly they used to abound. “At that period,” (speaking of twenty- five years ago), “they could be procured as far up the tributary waters of the Ohio as the great Kenhawa, the Scioto, the beads 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, and along the eastern districts as far as the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland. At the present day, few are to he 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.” A rapidly increasing population, attended by an extended cultivation, and the consequent destruction of many of those ancient and decayed trees which constituted the dormitories and breeding sites of the species, as well as the war constantly waged against them by the husbandman, as the depredators of the orchard and corn-stacks, are probably the chief causes of their rapid diminution in those parts which they formerly enlivened with their gay and varied plumage.
We learn from both authors, that, when engaged in feeding, they are easily approached, and numbers killed by one discharge, as the whole flock alight and feed close to each other. The work of destruction, moreover, is not confined to a single shot; for we are told, that “the survivors rise, shriek, fly round for a few minutes, and again alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The gun is kept at work; eight, 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:’ Injurious however, as they no doubt frequently are to the cultivator, their principal food is said to be the Cockle-burr, the seed of the Zanthiurn strumarium, a plant that abounds throughout the rich alluvial lands of the States west of the Allegheny Mountains: it is a weed noxious to the husbandman on many accounts, and the consumption of its seed by the Parrots must therefore he of some advantage, though that is unfortunately for them greatly diminished, from the circumstance of its possessing a perennial root.
Like the rest of the group to which it belongs, the Carolina Arara appears incapable of learning to articulate words, though, when captured, it soon becomes tame, and will eat almost immediately afterwards. Wilson gives a long and interesting account of an individual that he had wounded slightly in the wing, during one of his excursions, and which he carried for a great distance in his pocket. It soon became familiarized to confinement, learnt to know its name, to come when called on, to sit on his shoulder, climb up his clothes, eat from his mouth,
On account of its inability to articulate, and its loud disagreeable screams, it is seldom kept caged in America; and, as Audubon observes, “the woods are best fitted for them, and there the richness of their plumage, their beautiful mode of flight, and even their screams, afford welcome intimation that our darkest forests and most sequestered swamps are not destitute of charms.”
According to the author, their nest, or rather the place where they deposit their eggs is the bottom of the cavities of decayed trees. ‘Many females,” he observes, “deposit their eggs together,” and the number laid by each individual, he believes is two—a number which seems to prevail throughout the great body of the family. The eggs are round, and of a light greenish white; and the young, when excluded, and before they acquire their feathers, are covered with a soft down. The plumage of the first few months is green, but towards autumn they acquire a frontlet of carmine. Upon the ground they are slow and awkward, walking as if incommoded by their tail. When wounded, and attempted to be laid hold of, they turn to bite with open bill, and, if successful, inflict a very severe wound. They are said to delight in sand or gravelly banks, where they may frequently be seen rolling and fluttering about in the dust, at times picking up sad swallowing a limited quantity. The lochs and saline springs are also constantly frequented by them, salt appearing equally agreeable to them as to pigeons, and various other birds and animals.
The bill of the Carolina Arara is very hard and strong, the tip much thicker and rounder than in the psittacara group; the tooth, or angular process of the upper mandible, is well and strongly defined; the colour white. The irides are hazel, the orbital skin whitish.
The legs and feet are of a pale flesh red; the claws dusky. The forehead, cheeks, and periphthetonic region, are of a vivid orange red, the rest of the head and neck gamboge yellow; the shoulder and ridge of the wings yellow, varied with spots of orange red. The upper plumage is of a fine emerald green with purple and blue reflections. The greater wing coverts are deeply margined with greenish-yellow. The under plumage is a fine pale siskin or yellowish-green. The greater quills have their outer webs bluish-green, passing into bright yellow at the base. The inner webs are hair brown, slightly tinged with green near their tips. The tail is green, the inner webs of the lateral feathers tinged with brownish-red. The feathers of the tibiae are yellow, passing into orange at the joint. In length it averages about 14 inches; in extent of wings 22 inches.