Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

Search This Blog




Thursday, 6 September 2012


Carolina parakeets, eastern subspecies (John James Audubon)

The Carolina parakeet Conuropsis carolinensis, a readily recognizable species with bright green body in the nominate eastern subspecies C. c. carolinensis (bluish-green in the Louisiana subspecies C. c. ludovicianus) and striking yellow head was the only parrot species native to the eastern USA, and was also the only member of the parrot genus Conuropsis. Once very common in North America east of the Great Plains (especially in swampland areas), it acquired notoriety among fruit farmers as a considerable pest, because large flocks would descend upon orchards and devour great quantities of the farmers’ valuable produce. This, together with its popularity among woodsmen as a shooting target, and as a pet (responsible for the trapping of great numbers), resulted in its rapid extermination.

The last wild specimen of either subspecies known to have been collected was taken on 18 April 1901 in Florida, the Louisiana subspecies had died out by the early 1910s, and by February 1918 only a single captive specimen remained of the eastern subspecies - and, therefore, of the entire Carolina parakeet species. By an ironic coincidence, this last living individual, a male called ‘Incas’, was housed at Cincinnati Zoo — which had already been home to the last confirmed specimen of the passenger pigeon Ectopistes migratorius just four years earlier — where he died later that month. Thus, in less than four years, this same zoo had played host, reluctantly but impotently, to the extinction of two of North America’s most iconic species of bird.

Carolina parakeet, Louisiana subspecies (John James Audubon)

Yet as with the passenger pigeon, reports of Carolina parakeets continued to surface for many years after their species’ official extinction date. Some of these may well have been based upon sightings of non-native green parakeets that had escaped from captivity, but other, more compelling accounts are also on record.

For example, in Extinct and Vanishing Birds of the World (2nd edn, 1967) James C. Greenway noted that in 1920 a flock of about 30 individuals was reported near Florida’s Fort Drum Creek by Henry Redding, a local man. Equally remarkable (but in this case for all the wrong reasons) was a sighting made in 1926 by Charles E. Doe — at that time no less a personage than the Curator of Birds at Florida University. The presence in Okeechobee County, Florida, of three pairs of parakeets closely resembling the supposedly extinct Carolina parakeet evidently filled Doe with great excitement. So much so that, according to Errol Fuller (Extinct Birds, 1987), he proceeded to rob the poor birds of their eggs!

Taxiderm specimen of the eastern Carolina parakeet at Tring Museum, England (Dr Karl Shuker)

From carrying out extensive enquiries, esteemed American ornithologist Alexander Sprunt Jr became convinced that before the start of the Second World War in 1939, Carolina parakeets still survived within the Santee swamp area of South Carolina. One account that particularly impressed him had been obtained from a local woodsman named Shokes, who alleged that during the three to four years in which he and his son had been employed in that area as National Audubon Society bird wardens in the 1930s, they had seen green-bodied, yellow-headed parakeets there on three or four separate occasions. During one of these, Shokes had observed two such birds, evidently adults, followed by a smaller, younger individual with wavering flight, as they made their way across Wadmacaun Creek to Wadmacaun Island.

Sprunt himself, conversely, never saw adult specimens but one day sometime between 1936 and 1938, whilst in the company of John Baker (then President of the National Audubon Society) and acclaimed ornithologist/bird painter Roger Tory Peterson, he had seen a bright green bird fly swiftly past about 50 yards away, with a rapid, dove-like flight which convinced him that it was an immature Carolina parakeet. Sprunt sent news of his investigations to his English friend M.S. Curtler (Animals, 23 November 1965).

Rare photograph from 1906 of a living Carolina parakeet - Doodles, a pet owned by Paul Bartsch (public domain)

Sadly, even if the Santee Swamp birds were genuine Carolina parakeets, they could not have saved the species from extinction, because the swamp was eventually destroyed by developmental processes for a power plant. Nonetheless, there are many other swamps still existing within this bird’s original range that remain aloof and little-explored even today. In 1937, for instance, Oren Stemville shot a colour film of a bird in Georgia’s famous Okefenokee Swamp that resembled a Carolina parakeet.

Privately-owned taxiderm specimen of the eastern Carolina parakeet (Martin Cotterill)

So although unlikely, it is not impossible that some Carolina parakeets still linger undetected in such localities, with any occasional sightings of them being discounted as nothing more exciting than non-native escapee species.

This ShukerNature post is adapted from an excerpt in my book Extraordinary Animals Revisited (CFZ Press: Bideford, 2007).

Eastern Carolina parakeet and assorted North American songbirds (Alexander Wilson)


  1. Interesting that today would be the first time I've ever seen someone walk into a bank in Maine with a parrot on their shoulder. It was as brightly colored as these species, and looked beautiful. Only shortcoming, I thought, was, while the woman and the parrot made a great pair, the young lady seemed to be unaware that her shirt was covered in green-stained bird droppings!

  2. LOL - this incident provides a wonderful conjoining of two famous maxims: 'Love is blind' and 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'! Excellent!

  3. I wish I could believe the Carolina Parakeet still lives on, but I fear that the tragedy of extinction may still linger on invisible wings that once filled the air with green feathers.

  4. Well, you never know, you know. Old species long thought extinct keep turning up and new species never heard of are being found daily.

    One can only hope...

  5. These birds have been immortalized in stained glass: http://www.ontheedgeglass.com/portfolio/oak_hammock_marsh/carolina_parakeets.htm

  6. These birds were recently rediscovered. Check putt the link for more info:http://cincinnatibirds.com/message/showthread.php?Thread=1645&PHPSESSID=37c1fde0cc2b07c54380b561de5b81e3

  7. Sorry, this species hasdn't been rediscovered - check the date of the report you link to - April 1. It was an April Fool joke - and confirming this, Cornell University, cited in the report, has no record of any rediscovery of this species.

  8. I wish I saw them when they were alive and well populated...