Tag Archives: Indian River County

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/)

Coyotes of the Indian River Lagoon

Coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals on the planet and have made their way to the Indian River Lagoon. (Photos, public, Florida coyotes.)
Coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals on the planet and have made their way to the Indian River Lagoon. (Public photo, ” Florida coyotes.”)

Coyotes are here along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Coyotes were historically associated with the American West, but now they are now in most states and have been reported in 66 of 67 Florida counties, other than Monroe. There is no one to thank for this but humans. With the near eradication of the the American wolf and family of big cats related to the mountain lion since the 1800s, coyotes have no natural predators, other than man, and thus the coyote has flourished.

Most recently, along the Treasure Coast you many have read about Indian River County using cameras to see if coyotes are raiding sea turtle nests, or the controversial trapping and killing of the coyotes at Witham Field in Stuart interfering with plane landings, or the many residents in Palm City or western St Lucie County, who say they hear coyotes howling at night. Coyotes have also, within the past six months, been reported in the Town of Sewall’s Point, in the vicinity of South River Road on the south end, and Castle Hill in the north.

Photo of coyote in south Sewall's Point on River Road. (Courtesy of Sewall's Point Police Department.)
Photo of coyote in south Sewall’s Point on River Road. (Courtesy of Sewall’s Point Police Department, 2014.)

As a long time resident of Sewall’s Point, I love the wildlife and encourage all to live in harmony with these animals. They are God’s creatures and they keep the rat population down! I have seen both grey and red foxes, as well as many bobcats. I have friends who swear in Sewall’s Point’s earlier days, they witnessed panthers.

But I have yet to see a coyote. Unlike native bobcats who are solitary animals, unless mating or raising young, coyotes usually hunt in pairs and belong to a pack of about six members.

Coyotes are in the dog family and are related to wolves, foxes and domestic dogs. Coyotes and dogs can mate although this is unusual as coyotes have specific social ties and  mate only once a year. When dogs and coyotes do mate, the hybrid offspring is called a “coydog.” Coydogs are well documented out west and are said to make poor pets, as more often than not, they are very high strung.

The photo below is a grey fox for comparison. Coyotes are taller and weigh more than foxes; in our area sometimes weighing up to 30 pounds, whereas  a fox may be closer to 12.

Grey fox. Both grey and red foxes are much smaller than coyotes. (Public photo.)
Grey fox. Both grey and red foxes are much smaller than coyotes. (Public photo.)

Should we be scared? I don’t think so. We just need to be smart, coy and cautious, like the coyote.

Many Native American myths laud the craftiness of “coyote” and often in Native American mythology, he is so respected, he is  portrayed as the “Creator.” He is respected for being “ubiquitous,” as he is so successful, “he appears to be everywhere at once,” or “seems to appear everywhere at the same time.” He is not to be outsmarted.

One thing for certain, now that coyote is here, chances are, he will not go away. We must learn to live with him by keeping our distance, not leaving pets out for long periods unattended, in the evening or early mornings,  and by not feeding him. He is smart enough to feed himself.

It is said we all have a bit of fear  in our inner most nature, as the collective memory recalls the earlier times of fires and wolves, but then humankind tamed the wolf and hence today, we have “man best friend,” our dogs.

Coyote/Dog tracks
Coyote/Dog tracks

Remember that the coyote is related to dogs if you see him, and if you look him in the eye ask for a sliver of his adaptability and success surviving on an ever changing planet and an ever changing Indian River Lagoon.

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Florida Coyotes: (http://www.floridiannature.com/Coyote.htm)

Florid Wildlife Commission:(http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/coyote/)

History, Eradication of Wolves/Rise in Coyote Population:(http://www.wolfweb.com/history2.html)

Coyote/Native American Mythology:(http://www.pantheon.org/articles/c/coyote.html)

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I added this photo from Dr Gary Goforth 8-13-15 that was taken this February in Foxwood off 96 A in Martin County.

Shared by Dr Gary Goforth in Foxwood, Martin County.
MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA G. Goforth
 MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA by Dr Goforth.
MOULTRIE DIGITAL GAME CAMERA G.Goforth

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I added this link on 8-13-15 written by my classmate Angeline Scotten whom I met last week at the UF Natural Resouces Leadership Institute. She is an expert on the subject of coyotes for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. This article was written for Hernando County but certainly applies to us as well. I found it very informative. (http://hernandosun.com/coyotes_in_hernando)