Skip to main content

The colorful Carolina Parakeet once flocked in great numbers across the American Southeast, but now the bird is extinct.  You can see what the parakeet looked like in a new exhibit in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“The Carolina Parakeet in Art: Images from the Powell Collection,” features gifts of William S. “Bill” Powell, the North Carolina Collections’ former curator, and his wife, Virginia Powell, of Chapel Hill. The exhibit includes some 40 prints, photographs of specimens and paintings of the bird, an original Carolina Parakeet print from John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” series and an illustration by British naturalist Mark Catesby.

The parakeet, which measured 12 inches from beak to tail tip, was abundant in the Carolinas, Virginia and other parts of the Southeast during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Its colorful plumage sparked one early English settler to describe a passing flock as “an atmosphere of gems.”

The bird, also known as the Carolina Parrot, was the only parrot species native to the eastern and midwestern United States. It became extinct by the 1920s, a victim of deforestation, farmers who considered it an agricultural pest and hunters who sold its feathers to hat makers.

In addition to the exhibit that runs through September 30th, John Gerwin and Brian O’Shea, ornithologists with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, will give a free public lecture at 5:45 p.m. Aug. 29th in the Wilson Library on “The Carolina Parakeet and Relatives: A Look at Some Natural, Un-natural and Cultural Histories.”

Reproductions of the Catesby illustration are available for purchase through a partnership of the library and the site 1000 Museums: Royalties from the sales benefit the library.