ANIMATE CREATION VOL II, 1885
Popular Edition of “Our Living World,”
A Natural History by The Rev. J. G. Wood
Revised and Adapted to American Zoology
Another species of Macaw is found in the more northern portions of America, though it is popularly called a Parrot, and not a Macaw. This is the well-known Carolina Parrot, of which so much has been written by Wilson, Audubon and other American ornithologists.
This bird is much more hardy than the generality of the Parrot tribe, and has been noticed by Wilson in the month of February flying along the banks of the Ohio in the midst of a snow storm, and in full cry. It inhabits, according to Wilson. “the interior of Louisiana, and the shores of Mississippi and Ohio and their tributary waters, even beyond the Illinois river, to the neighborhood of Lake Michigan in latitude 42° N., and contrary to the generally received opinion, is chiefly resident in all these places. Eastward, however, of the great range of Alleghany, it is seldom seen farther north than the State of Maryland; though straggling parties have been occasionally observed among the valleys of the Juniata, and according to some, even twenty-five miles to the northwest of Albany, in the State of New York.”
These accidental visits are, however, rightly regarded by our author as of little value. The Carolina Parrot is chiefly found in those parts of the country which abound most in rich alluvial soils, on which grow the cockle-burs, so dear to the Parrot and so hated by farmer. In the destruction of this plant the Carolina Parrot does good service to the sheep owner, for the prickly fruit is apt to come off upon the wool of the sheep, and in some places so abundantly as to cover it with one dense mass of burs, through which the wool is hardly perceptible. The prickly hooks of the burs also break away from the fruit, and intermingle themselves so thoroughly with the fleece that it is often rendered worthless, the trouble cleansing it costing more than the value of the wool.
Besides the cockle-burs, the beech-nut and the seeds of the cypress and other trees are favorite food of the Carolina Parrot, which is said to eat apples, but probably only bites them off their stems for wantonness, as it drops them to the ground and there lets them lie undisturbed. An idea was and may be still prevalent in its native country that the brains and intestines of the Carolina Parrot were fatal to cats; and Wilson, after some trouble, succeeded in getting a cat and her kittens to feed upon this supposed poisonous diet. The three ate everything excepting the hard bill, and were none the worse for their meal. As, however, the Parrot was in this case a tame one, and had been fed upon Indian corn, he conjectured that the wild Parrot which had lived on cockle-burs might be injurious to the cat, although that which had eaten the comparatively harmless diet might do no injury. The nest of this bird is made in hollow trees.
One of these Parrots was tamed by Wilson, who gave the following, animated description of his favorite and her actions: “Anxious to try the effects of education on one of those which I procured at the Big Bone Lick, and which was but slightly wounded in the wing, I fixed up a place for it in the stern of my boat, and presented it with some cockle-burs, which it freely fed on, in less than an hour after it had been on board. The intermediate time between eating and sleeping was occupied in gnawing the sticks that formed its place of confinement, in order to make a practicable breach, which it repeatedly effected.”
“When I abandoned the river and travelled by land, I wrapped it up closely in a silk handkerchief, tying it tightly around, and carried it in my pocket. When I stopped for refreshment I unbound my prisoner and gave it its allowance, which it generally despatched with great dexterity, unhusking the seeds from the bur in a twinkling; in doing which it always employed its left foot to hold the bur, as did several others that I kept for some time. I began to think that this might be peculiar to the whole tribe, and that they all were, if I may use the expression, left-footed; but by shooting a number afterwards while engaged in mulberries, I found sometimes the left and sometimes the right foot stained with the fruit, the other always clean; from which, and the constant practice of those I kept, appears that, like the human species in the use of their hands, they do not prefer one or the indiscriminately, but are either left or right-footed.”
“But to return to my prisoner. In recommitting it to ‘durance vile’ we generally had a quarrel, during which it frequently paid me in kind for the wound I had inflicted and for depriving it of liberty, by cutting and almost disabling several of my fingers with its sharp and powerful bill. “The path between Nashville and Natchez is in some places bad beyond description. There are dangerous creeks to swim, miles of morass to struggle through, rendered almost as gloomy as night by a prodigious growth of timber, and an underwood of canes, and other evergreens, while the descent into these sluggish streams is often ten or fifteen feet perpendicular into a bed of deep clay. In some of the worst of these places, where I had, as it were, to fight and pursue it through, the Paroquet frequently escaped from my pocket, obliging me to dismount and pursue it through the worst of the morass before I could regain it. On these occasions I several times tempted to abandon it, but I persisted in bringing it along. When at night I encamped in the woods, I placed it on the baggage beside me, where it usually sat with great composure, dozing and gazing at the fire till morning. In this manner I carried it upwards of a thousand miles in my pocket, where it was exposed all day to the jolting of the horse, but regularly liberated at meal times and in the evening, at which it always expressed satisfaction.
“In passing through the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations, the Indians, whenever I stopped to feed, collected around me—men, women, and children—laughing, and seemingly wonderfully amused with the novelty of my companion. The Chickasaws called it in their language ‘Kelinky,’ but when they heard me call it Poll, they soon repeated the name; and whenever I chanced to stop amongst these people, we soon become familiar with each other through the medium of Poll.”
“On arriving at Mr. Dunbar’s, below Natchez, I procured a cage, and placed it under the piazza where, by its call, it soon attracted the passing flocks, such is the attachment they have for each other. Numerous parties frequently alighted on the trees immediately above, keeping up a constant conversation with the prisoner. One, of these I wounded slightly in the wing, and the pleasure Poll expressed on meeting with this new companion was really amusing. She crept close up to it, as it hung on the side of the cage, chattering to it in a low tone of voice as if sympathizing in its misfortune, scratched about its head and neck with her bill, and both at night nestled as close as possible to each other, sometimes Poll’s head being thrust among the plumage of the other.
“On the death of this companion she appeared restless and inconsolable for several days. On reaching New Orleans I placed a looking-glass beside the place where she usually sat, and the instant she perceived her image, all her former fondness seemed to return, so that she could scarcely absent herself from it a moment. It was evident she was completely deceived. Always when evening drew on, and often during the day, she laid her head close to that of the image in the glass, and began to doze with great composure and satisfaction.”
“In this short space she had learned to know her name, to answer when called on, to climb up my clothes, sit on my shoulder, and eat from my mouth. I took her with me to sea, determined to persevere in her education, but, destined to another fate, poor Poll one morning about daybreak wrought her way through the cage while I was asleep, instantly flew overboard and perished in the Gulf of Mexico.”
The result of this and other experiments was, that Wilson delivered his verdict in favor of the Carolina Parrot, saying that it is a docile and sociable bird, soon becomes perfectly familiar, and is probably capable of imitating the accents of man. Towards its own kind it displays strongest affection, and if its companions be in danger, it hovers about the spot in loving sympathy. It is very fond of salt, and will frequent the saline marshes in great numbers, coving the whole ground and neighboring trees to such an extent, that nothing is visible but their bright and glossy plumage.
While thus assembled together Wilson shot a great number of the birds, and was much struck with their affectionate conduct. “Having shot down a number, some of which were only wounded, the whole flock swept repeatedly round their prostrate companions, and again settled on a low tree within twenty yards of the spot where I stood. At each successive discharge, though showers of them fell, yet the affection of the survivors seemed rather to increase, for after a few circuits round the place they again alighted near me, looking down on their slaughtered companions with such manifest symptoms of sympathy and concern as entirely disarmed me.”
The same graceful writer then proceeds to observe, with that accuracy of detail for which his works are so valuable, “I could not but take notice of the remarkable contrast between their elegant manner of flight, and their lame, crawling gait, among the branches. They fly very much like the wild pigeon—in close, compact bodies, and with great rapidity, making a loud and outrageous screaming, not unlike that of the red-headed woodpecker. Their flight is sometimes in a direct line, but most usually circuitous, making a great variety of elegant and easy serpentine meanders as if for pleasure.
“They are particularly attached to the large sycamores, in the hollows of the trunks and branches of which they generally roost; thirty or forty, and sometimes more, entering at the same hole. Here they cling close to the sides of the tree, holding fast by the claws and also by the bill. They appear to be fond of sleep, and often retire to their holes daring the day, probably to take a regular siesta. They are extremely sociable with and fond of each other, often scratching each other’s heads and necks, and always at night nestling as close as possible to each other, preferring at that time a perpendicular position, supported by their bill and claws.”
The general color of this bird is green, washed with blue, and diversified with other tints as follows: The forehead and cheeks are reddish orange, the same tint is seen on the shoulders and head and wings, and the neck and back of the head are pure golden-yellow. The upper parts of the body are soft green, and the under portions are of the same hue, but with a yellowish cast. The greater wing-coverts are yellow, tinged with green, the primary feathers of the wing are deep purplish black, and the long wedge-shaped tail has the central feathers streaked with blue along their central line. The female is colored after the same fashion, but not so brightly, and the young of both sexes are green on the neck instead of yellow. The total length of this species is about twenty-one inches.
The Carolina Parrot (Conurus carolinensis) was once a very common species in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, being known along the Mississippi Valley to the Great Lakes. They are now quite restricted. Like too many other instances, this bird has a specific name of no significance. The bird is, according to Dr. Coues, “scarcely entitled to a place in the fauna of South Carolina.”
As this Parrot is confined to such circumscribed areas, none being found south of the United States, and in view of the already decreased numbers, it would seem almost inevitable at the species will become at no distant day extinct.
The habits of this bird are singular as compared with others of its race. We are accustomed to seeing all of this race of birds confined within tropical limits. Here we have a Parrot living the year through, west of the Alleghanies, in a cold climate; and Barton writes that a very large flock of them was seen northwest of Albany, N. Y., in the year 1780, Wilson saw a flock, in the month of February, on the banks of the Ohio, in a snow-storm, flying about and uttering their peculiar cry. Wilson states that these birds breed in hollow trees