CONTEXT

February 21, 2011

Swan song

In 1918, on February 21, a little bird at the Cincinnati Zoo died. It had been alone in its cage since the death of its mate the year before.

Conuropsis carolinensis by John James Audubon

It was the last of its kind in captivity. It would take another 20 years for scientists to realize that it was actually the last of its kind anywhere – the Carolina Parakeet was extinct.

The only parakeet native to eastern North America, the Carolina Parakeet had once flourished from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. But it was doomed by its preference for woodland, which began to disappear with imposition of agriculture on the landscape, by its beauty – its feathers looked good on hats – and by a behavioral quirk that made it easy pickings for farmers.

When parakeets were shot, the flock would take off, but then return immediately to gather around their wounded and dead. Shoot and repeat.

Coincidentally, Incas – the little bird at the Ciincinnati Zoo – lived in the same cage that had housed Martha, the last of more than three billion passenger pigeons that farmers and hunters had managed to decimate completely by 1914.

The pigeons lived in such huge colonies that they could easily be netted and, rather than waste ammunition, hunters crushed the birds’ heads with their hands. In Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878, one of the last great colonies was killed at the rate of 50,000 birds a day for nearly five months. The birds were shipped by the boxcar-load to eastern markets to be sold for food.

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3 Comments »

  1. well thats all pretty horrible! 😉

    Comment by nina c — February 21, 2011 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  2. I hate these sad storys although told quite well

    Comment by avery — February 21, 2011 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  3. Read a novel as a kid about the last of the Carolina Parakeets. Who knows, perhaps that was when I became nature woman that I am. Be aware that species are dying out at an ever-increasing rate. Long live the cockroaches of the world, at least they can survive us. Maybe.

    Comment by Carol — February 22, 2011 @ 9:11 am | Reply


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