One of the grandest American birds you’ve never seen is, or rather, was, the Carolina Parakeet. This gregarious member of the parrot family thrived on cockleburr seeds along the Atlantic coast of the United States and as far inland as Oklahoma. It was about a foot from beak to tail, and had a yellow or red face with iridescent green wings. John J. Audabon was so enchanted with this noisy rainbow of feathers that it was one of the first birds he painted for his famous portfolios. Harmless to farmers, because it ate mostly cockleburr seeds, which farmers considered a noxious weed, and fond of gathering in gigantic flocks in trees and fields, it was never hunted for food, unlike its distant cousin the passenger pigeon.
So why did this beautiful American bird suddenly disappear in the late 1800’s? No one knows for sure, but scientists who have been examining the genome of the last known specimen in a museum of natural history in Barcelona, Spain, suspect that the bird may have been exposed to a poultry virus when mingling with chickens on farms in the Midwest. With no immunity to Fowl Cholera or Newcastle Disease, the Carolina Parakeet most likely succumbed by the millions in just a decade or two.
Could it be brought back by genome resequencing, as in Jurassic Park? Spanish scientists say they are considering making it one of the first animals to test this still-unproven theory on!