Tag Archives: extinction

The Extinction of “Florida’s Parakeet,” a Sebastian Recollection of This Beautiful Bird, SLR/IRL

Photo of a "Carolina Paraquet," that lived in Florida's swamps and old growth forest until overshooting and loss of habitat led to its extinction. (Photo Palm City County Museum Sandra Henderson Thurlow)
Photo of a stuffed “Carolina Paroquet,” displayed in a glass container. “The bird was given to Mrs. Carlin at Jupiter and was owned by her son Carlin White who died at 105.” The birds were prevalent and lived in Florida’s swamps and old growth forest until overshooting, the pet trade, and loss of habitat led to their extinction. (Photo Palm  Beach County Museum, quote by Sandra Henderson Thurlow)

Sometimes on a sunny day, I hear gregarious green parrots in the cabbage palms of Sandsprit Park near Port Salerno. When my husband, Ed, and I recently visited his niece at University of Miami two huge, gorgeous multi-colored macaws swooped down over cars stuck in traffic.

“Holy moly!” I exclaimed. “What was that?”

“Parrots.” Darcy calmly replied. “They got loose from the zoo after the hurricanes. Now they live here; they have chicks in a royal palm tree on campus.”

Pretty cool. Life adapts, unless you go extinct that is…Extinct: “No longer existing or living; dead.”

This was the fate in the early 1900s of a beautiful bird known as the “Carolina Parakeet,” last reported between 1910 and 1920. The “paroquet” as the old timers referred to them, had an expansive range that included much of the eastern United States, west into Colorado, and south into Florida. Their habitat? Swamps and old growth forests… what our state used to be.

As these habitats were cleared and filled for timber and development, especially from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, their range became limited, and their numbers declined. According to documentation, some of the last remaining lived in our Indian River Lagoon region.

The birds were sought after for their bright feathers and friendly voices. People kept them as pets and wore them on ladies’ hats prior to Florida Audubon’s rampage.

Perhaps the most poignant  tale of their story is that the birds were very social, and like people, if a member of their group were shot, all the others would “flock to the injured,” making capture, or shooting of all others, “easy-pickings.” This compassion, an “advanced, evolved trait” sealed their fate in the extinction-book of history.

Ironically one of the most famous reports of the stunning birds occurred in the area of the Sebastian River and its confluence of the Indian River Lagoon.  A local man, Chuck Fulton, whose relation was my principal at Martin County High School, seems to have guided Chapman thorough the areas as a lad when he stayed at Oak Lodge in Sebastian where his great-great grandmother lived. (Sandra Henderson Thurlow)

Mind you Frank Chapman was like a movie star of his day. This would have been very exciting for young Chuck. “Frank Michler Chapman”—scientist, explorer, author, editor,  photographer, lecturer, and museum curator, —-one of the most influential naturalist and greatest ornithologists of his era.

In a book “Letters to Brevard County” shared by my mother, historian, Sandra Henderson Thurlow, Chapman accounts his travels of our region:

Frank Chapman
Frank M. Chapman

“The Sebastian is a beautiful river, no words of mine can adequately describe it.” Half a mile wide at its mouth, it narrows rapidly and three miles above appears as a mere stream which at our camp, eight miles up, was not more than fifty feet in width and about fifteen feet in-depth. Its course is exceedingly irregular and winding. The banks as we found them are high and for some distance from the water grown with palms and cypresses which arching meet overhead forming most enchanting vistas, and in many places there is a wild profusion of blooming convolvulus and moon flower…Here we observed about fifty colorful paroquets, in flocks of six to twenty. At an early hour, they left their roost in the hammock bordering the river, and passed out into the pines to feed….

In the “spirit of the day” Chapman goes on to describe how unafraid the birds were of him and then shoots a few birds for “science,” leaving alone those that come to the rescues of their fallen comrades…..

In all fairness, it must be noted Chapman also appealed to President Teddy Roosevelt to establish Pelican Island as a national preserve– which in time became the first U.S. National Wildlife Refuge, (also in Sebastian),  and he is also credited with starting the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, where birds are counted, and not shot. Even today “scientific” specimens must be killed in order to be recorded as a new species. One day perhaps a photograph will be sufficient. 

Quite a story….and so close to home.

So next time you see a brown pelican gracefully flying past, picture a flock of fifty, squawking, colorful parakeets happily trailing behind. What a colorful world our Indian River Lagoon must have been!

Carolina Parakeet drawing 1800s. Public image.
Carolina Parakeet art piece 1800s. Public image.

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Thank you to my mother Sandra H. Thurlow for the content to write this blog post.

Carolina Parakeet: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolina_parakeet)
Extinct birds: (http://www.50birds.com/birds/extinct-birds.htm)

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8-25-15 10PM: I am including a photos and comment sent to me by Dr. Paul Grey, Okeechobee Science Coordinator, Florida Audubon. Very interesting!

“Jacqui, thanks for the parakeet story. Look at the tags on these parakeets, these are the skins of the birds Chapman shot that still are in the Museum of Natural History in NY. There is a statue of the bird at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve that Todd McGrain did for his Lost Bird Project…Worth seeing.” —Paul Grey

*NOTE THE LITTLE CARD THAT SAYS “SEBASTIAN RIVER!”

Chapman's birds, Museum of Natural History. (Paul Grey)
Chapman’s birds, Museum of Natural History. (Paul Grey)
Carolina Parakeet sculpture by (Paul Grey)
Carolina Parakeet sculpture at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve, by Todd McGrain. (Paul Grey)

Lost Bird Project: (http://www.lostbirdproject.org/)

The Once Florida Black Wolf of the Indian River Lagoon

The black wolf once roamed the shores and surrounding lands of the Indian River Lagoon, becoming extinct in 1883. (Photo public files.)
The Florida wolf or black wolf once roamed the shores and surrounding lands of the Indian River Lagoon and the state of Florida, becoming extinct in 1908. (A photo of a modern, larger, Ontario black wolf,  public files.)

A wolf of the Indian River Lagoon? You’re kidding?

Not too long ago, before 1908, a black wolf known as the “Florida black wolf” was part of the ecosystem of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. One of the best local accounts of this black wolf, can still be found in an historical document  written by a member of the Seminole War party, of Col. Benjamin Pierce, for whom Ft Pierce is named.

Col. Pierce was fighting the Indians in the 1837 Seminole War. According to the Sebastian River Area Historical Society, Col. Pierce and his troops sailed down the Indian River Lagoon on December 31st “in boats filled with baggage, men, and provisions.” Surgeon Mott, of his party, wrote of the journey:

“Nothing occurred to disturb the quiet of the night, except the wolves in the neighboring forest responding with howls as they threatened one another…”

Paining by I.Wesp of Benjamin Pierce and troops sailing down the IRL- (Tales of Sebastian, 1990.)
Paining by I. Wesp of Benjamin Pierce and Seminole War troops sailing down the IRL, 1837. (Tales of Sebastian, 1990.)

This “black wolf subspecies” became extinct in 1908, mostly due to hunting as homesteaders pushed the wolf out of its habitat. It is documented that there was also a more reddish colored “red wolf” that coexisted with the black wolf simultaneously and it went extinct a bit later, in 1921.

These black wolves and red wolves were a related subspecies of the more well known American grey wolf (Canis lupus) and related to today’s Gregory’s Wolf  or Red Wolf that has been recently been reintroduced in North Carolina.

Gregory's Wolf or Red Wolf has been reintroducing into North Carolina and surrounding areas.
Gregory’s Wolf or Red Wolf has been reintroducing into North Carolina and surrounding areas. (Photo public)

For many years, there were intellectual arguments in the scientific community about whether the the black and red Florida wolves were true “wolves” or more closely genetically related to the coyote. Although after years of heated discussion, it was first determined that the black and red wolves were a type of coyote, this was contested and overturned by the  International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 1957.

Yes, although they had adapted and taken on a smaller frame than their grey wolf relatives, Florida’s  black and red canines were “wolves.” 

Scientific drawing, 1800s, Florida Black Wolf. I don't quite get the buffalo in the background! But you get the idea!:) (Wikipedia)
Scientific drawing, 1800s, Florida Black Wolf. (Wikipedia)

Hmmm?

The state of Florida still has bears and panthers. Wouldn’t it be amazing  if we still had wolves!

There may always be that element of fear with wolves but there must also be respect, as the wolf is second only to humans in adapting to a changing planet, and of course the extinct black wolf, and the modern grey wolf, are closely related to our very best friends, domesticated dogs.

Just incredible!  The once wild and beautiful creatures of the Indian River Lagoon…..

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Florida Black Wolf: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Black_Wolf)

US Fish and Wildlife Commission/Grey Wolf: (http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/aboutwolves/biologue.htm

Wolf facts: (http://www.defenders.org/gray-wolf/basic-facts)

The Comeback of the Snowy Egret and its Inspiration for the Comeback of the Indian River Lagoon

This snowy egret was visiting the retention pond across form Indialucie in Sewall's Point. This plume bird was the most hunted during the 1800s and lost up to 95 percent of its population. They have made a comeback. (Photo Sandra Thurlow, 2014.)
This snowy egret was visiting the retention pond, across from Indialucie, in Sewall’s Point. The bird exhibits some of the most excessive foraging behaviors and has what is considered the most  beautiful mating plumage of any wading bird and bright yellow feet!  It hunts in wetland habitats.  Plume hunters decimated its population by up to 95% but since protected, the birds have made a comeback. (Photo Sandra Thurlow, 2014.)

Every day, I look to nature for inspiration, hoping for a model of success to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

One of the “greats” is the little snowy egret. All wading birds were almost hunted to the point of extinction during the feathered ladies hat craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and because the snowy egret was the most desired of all birds for its beautiful nuptial plumes, it, more than any other wading bird, was hunted.

There was great motivation to hunt birds as at the time, their feathers were worth more than gold.

It is well documented that the plume hunters shot birds by the thousands in rookeries through out Florida, especially the Everglades, during breeding season when the birds’  feathers were most beautiful.  The birds were shot right off their nests with the baby birds left to die. Entire rookeries disappeared.

After witnessing such, many hunters reported feeling sick at the “sight of thousands of little hanging necks over the nests” and “repented,” refusing to go back after being part of such cold blooded carnage.

But times were tough and there were alway more men behind them to take their place. In the late 1890s the Ornithologists’ Union estimated that five million birds of all kinds were killed annually.

Snowy egret family. Parents in full plumage. (Public photo.)
“Little Snowy” was most hunted for its “nuptial feathers” that grow during mating and baby bird season. During the late 1800s and early 1900s the birds were commonly shot off their nests. (Public photo.)

The story of what birds remain and have rebounded is  yet another story of American inspiration though everyday people demanding more of their government.

In 1886, Forest and Stream editor, George Bird Grinnell, was “appalled by the negligent mass slaughter of birds.” Based on studies of painter John James Audubon from Ornithological Biography, he created an organization devoted to the protection of wild birds and their eggs. Within a year the the Audubon Society had over  39,000  members including very prominent figures of the day and eventually a US  president. Their numbers and financial support grew and the organization evolved throughout many states. Letter writing campaigns ensured, many from churches, state laws were passed starting in New York, banning the sale of plumes, and by 1920 similar laws were passed in other states. In 1918 US Audubon lobbied for the Federal “Migratory Bird Treaty Act” and convinced the US government to support the National Wildlife Refuge system, the first being Sebastian, Florida’s “Pelican Island.” Today migrating and resident birds are protected, or at minimum, regulated, by hunting license in all communities.

 

Snowy egret in breeding plumage and colors. (Public    "wallpaper" photo.)
Snowy egret in breeding plumage and colors. (Public “wallpaper” photo.)

So again, the stories are many of mankind’s propensity to kill the world around “him,” and then to pull back from the brink of total destruction by the intervention of a small group of people.

The story of the Indian River Lagoon will hopefully be a similar tale to tell. So when you are around town and see a little snowy egret, feel inspired!

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US Federal Migratory Bird Act: (http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/migtrea.html)

FWC 2011 Report Snowy Egret: (http://www.myfwc.com/media/2273400/Snowy-Egret-BSR.pdf )

FWC Bird Regulations: (http://m.myfwc.com/hunting/regulations/birds/)

Birds of North America/Snowy Egret:(http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/489/articles/introduction)

Wikipedia’s History of Plume Hunting in the US: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plume_hunting)