It’s a story that was disturbingly familiar at the turn of the 20th century. The Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) was once found in abundance throughout the eastern and midwestern United States. The parrot with the northern-most distribution, the colorful and noisy Carolina Parakeet, was hard to miss when it gathered in large flocks. By the late 19th century it was rare. By the early 20th century it was virtually extinct, with the last known individual dying in captivity in 1918. In Illinois, historical accounts place the parakeets from extreme southern Illinois to the dunes along Lake Michigan. However, they were likely more common in the south, decreasing as one moved north. Carolina Parakeets also are present in the archaeological record at Cahokia Mounds and at another site in Pike County.
Once these birds roosted in hollow cavities in Sycamore trees and feasted on cockleburs and fruit. Today, one of the few tangible connections we maintain to extinct species is through museum collections. For those of us born too late to experience the birds in the wild, study skins and taxidermy mounts can help us learn more about the Carolina Parakeet and the reasons for its demise.