• Laurel Contributor

The Decline of Native Birds

by William McReynolds

The sad fate of the Carolina Parakeet seems to be looming for scores of North American bird species.

The Carolina Parakeet has been extinct for over 100 years. This native Carolinian, a subtropical green parrot, was once so numerous that their flocks ranged from New York and Wisconsin south to Kentucky and Tennessee and west from the Atlantic to Colorado.

In its time, it was the northernmost parrot in the Western Hemisphere.

Its precipitous decline began in the 1800s and the Carolina Parakeet was rarely seen outside of Florida, its last refuge, after 1860. John James Audubon wrote in 1831 that “In some districts, where 25 years ago they were plentiful, scarcely any are now to be seen.”

This sudden decline in numbers was caused by the loss of habitat as the westward expansion of the U.S. resulted in forests being cleared for agricultural purposes and the harvesting of these colorful birds for their ornamental feathers. Fruit farmers shot them in great numbers because they destroyed crops like apples for their seeds. They also ate corn and menaced corn crops. Carolina Parakeets cooperated in this massive kill with their habit of congregating above a fallen member of their flock, being easy prey for farmers seeking to eliminate entire populations.

The last known wild Carolina Parakeet was killed in 1904. The last captive Carolina Parakeet died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918 in the same cage in which the last Passenger Pigeon died.

Other species of native birds are now in steep decline and threatened with extinction. The extensive Audubon Birds and Climate Report summarizes the impact of climate change on 588 North American birds. Of the species studied, 314 were found to be currently “at risk” from global warming. Of these, 126 are considered “endangered” with 188 “threatened” with loss of more than 50 percent of their current range by the year 2080.

Nine State Birds could disappear from their states, including the Common Loon of Minnesota, Baltimore Oriole of Maryland, Hermit Thrush of Vermont and Purple Finch of New Hampshire. Threatened North Carolina birds include Golden-winged, Cerulean and Black-throated Blue Warblers; and the beautiful Wood Thrush.

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