The Story Behind the Carolina Parakeet


Dear Reader:

After finding the Carolina Parakeet glass engraving ( absolutely magnificent) by Lex Melfi (sponsored by Sculpture in the South) last Saturday on our scavenger hunt…some facts about this (sadly extinct) bird kept trying to pop up in my mind from teaching South Carolina History for almost three decades. There was something really interesting I had read recently about it…but what was it? I had to know.

*There was a little limerick clue for each sculpture on the B.I.R.D.S Sculpture Trail which made it fun for adults and children alike. The limerick for the Carolina Parakeet said:

At Town Hall, there’s a bird in the glass, From flocks of great numbers, one’s been cast. They once ruled the air, But now they’re not there, Sad to say, this BIRD’s lost to the past.”

Sunday I pulled out my big heavy  South Carolina…A History by Walter Edgar and started looking for any information I could find on this once rare bird. “Walter” didn’t fail me. He exclaimed:

The first Europeans to settle in the lowcountry of South Carolina wrote: “There are divers sorts of Birds unknowne in England” one of which was the Carolina parakeet, a colorful bird that always seemed to attract attention….the only parakeet found in North America.

Edgar went on to say, ” There are probably more species of birds in South Carolina than in any other state. Turkeys back then were reported weighing forty and fifty pounds. Flocks of passenger pigeons were so thick that they darkened the sky. Carolina parakeet flocks were also large, but the birds were not as numerous as the passenger pigeons.

Now extinct, the Carolina parakeet was a dove-sized (about thirty-five centimeters long) bird with a bright green body, yellow head, and orange face. Mark Catesby, an English naturalist living in Charleston, painted the parakeet in 1731, thus providing the first scientific description of the species. The species was abundant in early America, and its range extended to New York, Colorado, and Florida. The Carolina parakeet was well known for its ability to withstand harsh winters, due to the winter availability of its main foods: cockleburs, thistle seeds, and sandspurs.

Many captive Carolina parakeets lived ten years, and one was believed to have attained thirty years.

One of the last verified sightings occurred in June 1938 when Warren and Hollie Shokes saw a pair with a young bird in the Santee River swamp of Georgetown County. Thus, South Carolina was the site of both the first sketch and a final sighting of the Carolina parakeet.

— Excerpted from an entry by William Post. (Charleston Currents) Via South Carolina Encylopedia


From the Smithsonian Libraries, I found an interesting excerpt from an article titled “Carolina Parakeet: A Splendor of Beauty Gone Forever” by Liz O’Brien.

Jewel-colored Carolina parakeets traveled in huge, noisy flocks from southern New York and Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, favoring old forests along rivers. Although they looked tropical, Carolina parakeets didn’t migrate south in the winter but weathered the cold.

As their forests were cut to make space for farms, the parrots were shot for feeding on crops and orchards. Trappers captured them to sell as pets, and hunters sold them as colorful decorations. Hat makers and clothiers prized the Carolina parakeet’s brilliant plumage, using feathers or entire birds to decorate ladies’ hair, hats, and gowns. In 1886 alone, the hat trade claimed an estimated 5 million birds of various species—victims of fashion. By 1904, they were gone in the wild. The last Carolina parakeet in captivity died in 1918.


All of this information I found fascinating but I was still missing something new I had heard about the Carolina Parakeet…finally it came back to me and I found the information in an article by National Geographic News called: “Opinion: The Case for Reviving Extinct Species.” (Stewart Brand)

Scientists who deal in genetics now have the capability of bringing back certain extinct plant and animal species from the past…the number one most hopeful project will probably be the Wooly Mammoth (because of direct DNA from certain elephants today) that once roamed through South Carolina and and other sections of the country. In the article Brand also mentioned the Carolina Parakeet as one extinct bird species they would like to see resurrected. 

The article discussed the pro’s for experimenting with these “Jurassic Park” type projects… I am providing a link to the article if you are interested in reading it. It ended with this thought about the future and going to zoo’s with children…

“The current generation of children will experience the return of some remarkable creatures in their lifetime. It may be part of what defines their generation and their attitude to the natural world. They will drag their parents to zoos to see the woolly mammoth and growing populations of captive-bred passenger pigeons, ivory-billed woodpeckers, Carolina parakeets, Eskimo curlews, great auks, Labrador ducks, and maybe even dodoes. (Entrance fees at zoos provide a good deal of conservation funding, and zoos will be in the thick of extinct species revival and restoration.)

Humans killed off a lot of species over the last 10,000 years. Some resurrection is in order. A bit of redemption might come with it.”


*And don’t forget even Jimmy Buffet uses the Carolina (Parrot Head) Parakeet as a symbol of his loyal fans..everyone loves this beautiful bird.

*So until tomorrow…If you go to the Gibbes Museum of Art in downtown Charleston you will see this beautiful art work by Anna Heyward Taylor.

*This gorgeous wood block print on paper art work was given to the museum by the artist, herself,  (Anna Heyward Taylor- 1879-1956) as a gift. A rare treasure for a rare bird. Beauty lasts forever when captured by an artist…though the subject of that beauty might be gone forever. (Or maybe not?)

“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh

Today really is my favorite day because my wonderful friend, Honey Burrell, was born on this day…and it was only a matter of time before we were destined to meet and become the best of friends.

Happy Birthday Honey!!!!! You are the rarest of all things beautiful…inside and out!



“Little Big Red” outgrew his pot yesterday. I was going to bring him in, anyway, since the temps are dropping below freezing the next few nights…but when I looked at him…he was leaning precariously to the right…so tall he could no longer stay straight up….I found a deeper pot and after the freeze I will help Chelsey replant the red geranium who is a definite offspring of his famous ancestor who came before him. (*Luke propped him up with a stake temporarily)











About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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2 Responses to The Story Behind the Carolina Parakeet

  1. bcparkison says:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful to look outside and see a tree full of these birds. I think I have read of a flock similar in NY ,or somewhere up there. My dreams sometimes have a monkey or two in the trees outside my window. Aren’t dreams funny?
    Little Big Red is just a wonder to behold.


    • Becky Dingle says:

      It would be like a “Back to the Future” experience to wake up to the sounds and beautiful sightings of Carolina parakeets and feel the vibrations of wooly mammoths ….see flocks of passenger pigeons darkening the skies….today only in our dreams…but tomorrow…who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

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