Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE CAROLINA PARROT.
[Carolina Parakeet. EXTINCT.]
CENTURUS CAROLINENSIS, Linn.
PLATE CCLXXVIII.--MALE, FEMALE, and YOUNG.
Doubtless, kind reader, you will say, while looking at the figures of
Parakeets represented in the plate, that I spared not my labour. I never do, so
anxious am I to promote your pleasure.
These birds are represented feeding on the plant commonly called the
Cockle-bur. It is found much too plentifully in every State west of the
Alleghanies, and in still greater profusion as you advance towards the Southern
Districts. It grows in every field where the soil is good. The low alluvial
lands along the Ohio and Mississippi are all supplied with it. Its growth is so
measured that it ripens after the crops of grain are usually secured, and in
some rich old fields it grows so exceedingly close, that to make one's way
through the patches of it, at this late period, is no pleasant task. The burs
stick so thickly to the clothes, as to prevent a parson from walking with any
kind of ease. The wool of sheep is also much injured by them; the tails and
manes of horses are converted into such tangled masses, that the hair has to be
cut close off, by which the natural beauty of these valuable animals is
impaired. To this day, no useful property has been discovered in the
cockle-bur, although in time it may prove as valuable either in medicine or
chemistry as many other plants that had long been considered of no importance.
Well, reader, you have before you one of these plants, on the seeds of
which the Parrot feeds. It alights upon it, plucks the bur from the stem with
its bill, takes it from the latter with one foot, in which it turns it over
until the joint is properly placed to meet the attacks of the bill, when it
bursts it open, takes out the fruit, and allows the shell to drop. In this
manner, a flock of these birds, having discovered a field ever so well filled
with these plants, will eat or pluck off all their seeds, returning to the place
day after day until hardly any are left. The plant might thus be extirpated,
but it so happens that it is reproduced from the ground, being perennial, and
our farmers have too much to do in securing their crops, to attend to the
pulling up the cockle-burs by the roots, the only effectual way of getting rid
The Parrot does not satisfy himself with cockle-burs, but eats or destroys
almost every kind of fruit indiscriminately, and on this account is always an
unwelcome visiter to the planter, the farmer, or the gardener. 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 if 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, like the ship water-logged and abandoned by its crew,
floating on the yet agitated waves, after the tempest has ceased. 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. The maize alone never
attracts their notice.
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 round 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, and have procured a basketful of these birds at a few shots, in order to
make choice of good specimens for drawing the figures by which this species is
represented in the plate now under your consideration.
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 neighbourhood, 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. Should a person shoot at them, as they go, and wound an individual, its
cries are sufficient to bring back the whole flock, when the sportsman may kill
as many as he pleases. If the bird falls dead, they make a short round, and
then fly off.
On the ground these birds walk slowly and awkwardly, as if their tail
incommoded them. They do not even attempt to run off when approached by the
sportsman, should he come upon them unawares; but when he is seen at a distance,
they lose no time in trying to hide, or in scrambling up the trunk of the
nearest tree, in doing which they are greatly aided by their bill.
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.
When wounded and laid hold of, the Parakeet opens its bill, turns its head
to seize and bite, and, if it succeed, is capable of inflicting a severe wound.
It is easily tamed by being frequently immersed in water, and eats as soon as it
is placed in confinement. Nature seems to have implanted in these birds a
propensity to destroy, in consequence of which they cut to atoms pieces of wood,
books, and, in short, every thing that comes in their way. They are incapable
of articulating words, however much care and attention may be bestowed upon
their education; and their screams are so disagreeable as to render them at best
very indifferent companions. The woods are the habitation 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.
They are fond of sand in a surprising degree, and on that account are
frequently seen to alight in flocks along the gravelly banks about the creeks
and rivers, or in the ravines of old fields in the plantations, when they
scratch with bill and claws, flutter and roll themselves in the sand, and pick
up and swallow a certain quantity of it. For the same purpose, they also enter
the holes dug by our Kingfisher. They are fond of saline earth, for which they
visit the different licks interspersed in our woods.
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 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,
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.
Their flesh is tolerable food, when they are young, on which account many
of them are shot. The skin of their body is usually much covered with the mealy
substances detached from the roots of the feathers. The head especially is
infested by numerous minute insects, all of which shift from the skin to the
surface of the plumage, immediately after the bird's death. 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. I am of opinion that the number of eggs which each
individual lays is two, although I have not been able absolutely to assure
myself of this. They are nearly round, and of a light greenish-white. 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. The only material differences which the sexes
present externally are, that the male is rather larger, with more brilliant
PSITTACUS CAROLINENSIS, Linn. Syst. Nat., vol. i. p. 141.
CAROLINA PARROT, Psittacus Carolinensis, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. iii. P. 89.
PSITTACUS CAROLINENSIS, Bonap. Syn., p. 41.
CAROLINA PARROT, Psittacus carolinensis, Nutt. Man., vol. i. P. 545.
CAROLINA PARROT, Psittacus carolinensis, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. i. p. 135.
Male, 14, 22.
South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and up the
Mississippi to Kentucky. Abundant. Resident.
Bill short, bulging, very strong and hard, deeper than broad, convex above
and below, with a cere at the base; upper mandible curved from the base, convex
on the sides, the margin overlapping, with an angular process, the tip trigonal,
acute, declinate, much exceeding the under mandible, which is very short,
broadly convex on the back, truncate at the extremity. Nostrils basal, round,
open, placed in the cere. Head very large. Neck robust. Body rather
elongated. Feet short and robust; tarsus scaly all round; toes scutellate
above, flat beneath, two behind and two before, the latter united at the base;
claws curved, acute.
Plumage compact and imbricated on the back, blended on the head, neck, and
under parts. Orbital space bare. Wings long, second and third quills longest
Tail long, wedge-shaped, of twelve, narrow, tapering feathers.
Bill white. Iris hazel. Bare orbital space whitish. Feet pale
flesh-colour, claws dusky. Fore part of the head and the cheeks bright scarlet,
that colour extending over and behind the eye, the rest of the head and the neck
pure bright yellow; the edge of the wing bright yellow, spotted with orange.
The general colour of the other parts is emerald-green, with light blue
reflections, lighter beneath. Primary coverts deep bluish-green; secondary
coverts greenish-yellow. Quills bluish-green on the outer web, brownish-red on
the inner, the primaries bright yellow at the base of the outer web. Two middle
tail-feathers deep green, the rest of the same colour externally, their inner
webs brownish-red. Tibial feathers yellow, the lowest deep orange.
Length 14 inches, extent of wings 22; bill along the ridge 1 1/12, gap,
measured from the tip of the lower mandible, 1/2; tarsus 5/6 middle toe 1 1/4.
The female is similar to the male in colour. The upper figure represents a
kind of occasional variety, with fourteen tail-feathers. The specimen from
which the drawing was taken was shot at Bayou Sara, in Louisiana.
The young bird is known by the comparative shortness of the tail, and the
uniform green colour of the head.
XANTHIUM STRUMARIUM, Willd., Sp. Pl., vol. iv. p. 373. Pursh, Flor. Amer.,
vol. ii. p. 581. Smith, Engl. Fl., vol. iv. p. 136.--MONOECIA
PENTANDRIA, Linn.--CORYMBIFERAE, Juss.
Root fibrous; stem solitary, erect, branched, from three to six feet high,
furrowed, downy; leaves on long petioles, cordate, lobed, serrate, scabrous,
three-nerved at the base; clusters axillar, of four or five fertile, and one or
two barren flowers, which are green; nuts densely armed, and furnished with two