A new research study sequenced the Carolina Parakeet [aka Conuropsis Carolinensis), the only U.S. parrot native to the eastern part of the country. What they found was startling — namely, that this endangered species had disappeared at the hands of humans, due to deforestation, hunting and disease.
Deforestation, Hunting & Disease
The clearing of forests to make way for farms destroyed the birds’ habitat and contributed to their loss. Farmers considered them pests and killed them in large numbers. They were hunted for their vibrant feathers of green, yellow and red, which made a popular addition to ladies’ hats. These parrots were also easy targets, based on the fact they would often congregate around wounded or dead flockmates.
Liz Langley from the National Geographic speculated that there were also causes not directly driven by humans—like diseases spread by poultry and natural disasters. In turn, this fragmented the Carolina parakeet’s habitat—and may have been a significant reason for the species’ decline.
This study couldn't find a significant presence of bird viruses in the Carolina parakeet’s DNA, however. However, they do acknowledge that further research is needed to rule out poultry disease as a catalyst for the bird’s extinction.
This research team didn’t discover evidence of inbreeding that you might expect to see in a species that has been endangered for some time. This suggests the parakeet “suffered a very quick extinction process that left no traces in the genomes of the last specimens,” the researchers write in Current Biology. And when extinction happens at a rapid pace, “human action is common,” study co-author Carles Lalueza told Ryan F. Mandelbaum of Gizmodo.
These findings offer sobering insight into how quickly one species is capable of going extinct — and one as colorful as the U.S. parakeet, who were cherished by so many.
Primary Source: Smithsonian Magazine