A sewn image included on quilt dated to 1867 from Brooklyn, New York, depicts what is perhaps the first image known to show a Carolina Parakeet being kept as a captive bird.
The 246 x 215 centimeters Reconciliation Quilt, was made by Lucinda Ward Honstain during the Civil War era portrays forty scenes of every-day life, images that represent typical scenes of the era.
Detail of a parrot from the Reconciliation Quilt. Image courtesy of the International Quilt Study Center.
One especially interesting panel, shows a green bird in a cage.
There are several features of the bird that match the characteristics of the Carolina Parakeet, when compared to the wonderful painting by John James Audubon that shows a group of the parakeets in all their vivid color.
- general shape of the body, with its long tail
- green body color
- yellowish head
- beak shape
- tinge of yellow on the wing, similar to the natural yellow on the parakeet's wing
- similarity of the feet size and shape, and their coloration
Also, the only native parakeet in the states, was the Carolina Parakeet, and it is less likely for a non-native species to be be present, and probably less likely, be kept in captivity.
And although the wings are shown in a color that does not match the actual, natural color of the parakeet, an alternate color was probably used to distinctly convey the idea of wings, an obvious feature to show for a bird pattern. Another color would be more obvious than a different shade of green that would be more similar to a living bird's plumage.
This artistic license would also apply to the way the tail is shown, with the colors used obviously more depictive of the tail and its distinct feathers.
The Audubon image does not give a really good presentation of the parakeet's tail, so it is not easy to determine the true hues of these feathers. There are not any other known color images of these parakeets that can be used as a comparison.
Audubon's image of the Carolina Parakeet.
These two variances do not detract from the general matching of the quilt bird to the appearance of the living Carolina parrot.
A Carolina Parakeet may have been shown on the quilt because it was a bright, colorful, and raucous species, one of the most beautiful among the wild birds of the 1860s.
It is entirely possible that the quilt maker - or an acquaintance - may have had a captive bird. Perhaps it was a fledgling taken from a nesting group somewhere in the region, especially somewhere to the south in Virginia or the Carolinas where the parrots were more prevalent.
There are more than 150 known occurrences of this species from 1550 through 1857 in the historic United States that shown the widespread range of the species during the historic period. Additional sighting are available in the bird literature for more recent times.
Among the records is a journal entry that describes the taking of live birds.
In July, 1736, Commissary Von Reck, when at Ebenezer near the Abercorn landing on the Savannah River in Georgia, described how the gaudy birds were taken alive:
"The little paraquetes are green with some red and yellow feathers. They fly in large flocks and make a great crying sound when they fly. They are taken young from the nest, or else they are shot at with water that is put on a wadding of sandal-wood. They are also caught by means of heavy smoke from rosin and pitch, which stupifies them so that they fall to the ground. ..."
The captured birds taken could have been fixed for dinner or supper, used for some other unknown reason, and perhaps even kept alive to enjoy their color and life. And maybe to try to get them to talk, in the fashion parrots were capable of.
Carolina Parakeets, were known to readily adapt to the captive life.
A notation from the same period of time, mentioned how quickly the parrots adapted to being held as captives.
Of the Birds.
The Parakeetoes, are for the most part of a fine Green colour, only their Head, and part of their Wings, are of a beautiful Orange colour. They have thick Beaks of Bills, exactly like those of the Hawks. They are a Species of the Parrots, and generally about the bigness of a small pigeon. In April they feed on the Birch-buds, and seldom come down amongst the Planters until the Mulberries are ripe, which they eat, and are extremely fond of. They are likewise very mischievous to Orchards, and peck the Apples to eat the Kernels, so that the fruit quickly rots and perishes. They build their Nests in hollow Trees, in low swampy Grounds. They lie hidden in the Winter, when the Weather is extream hard and frosty, and never appear all that time. There are none of these Birds or Alligators to be met with to the North-ward of this Province, by the best Information I could learn, during my Residence in those parts. They are often taken alive with Traps, Bird-lime, &c., and will become tame and familiar in two or three Days time; yet they are not so docile or apt to learn to speak as Parrots generally are. They are most commonly very fat in the Mulberry and Fruit time, and are excellent good Food, preferably to any Pigeon. - John Brickell, M.D. 1737. The Natural History of North Carolina.
Thomas Nuttall provided some natural history for the "Carolina Parrot" - as he called it - in his treatise A Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and Canada published in 1832.
The brief description of the species characteristics was: "green; head and neck yellow; forehead and cheeks orange; tail elongated - the young without the yellow color."
Image of the Carolina parrot in Nuttall's tome on birds.
Additional details described the species' response to being kept in cavity.
"The Carolina Parrot is readily tamed, and early shows an attachment to those around who bestow any attention on its wants; it soon learns to recollect its name, and to answer and come when called on. It does not, however, evince much, if any capacity, for mimicking human speech, or sounds of any kind; and, as a domestic, is very peaceable and rather taciturn. It is extremely fond of nuts and almonds, and may be supported on the vegetable food usually given to other species. One which I saw a Tuscaloosa, a week after being disabled in the wing, seemed perfectly reconciled to its domestic condition; and as the weather was rather cold, it remained the greater part of the time in the house, climbing up the sides of the wire fender to enjoy the warmth of the fire. I was informed, that when first caught it scaled the side of the room, at night, and roosted in a hanging posture by the bill and claws; but finding the labor difficult and fruitless, having no companion near which to nestle, it soon submitted to pass the night on the back of a chair.
"When placed in a cage out of doors, in a suitable situation, the call of prisoner instantly awakens the sympathy of the passing flocks, who from the neighbouring trees sometimes enter into communion with their disabled or detained companion. A caged bird, as with some of the other species, and particularly the 'Inseparable,' is extremely pleased with the society of a companion, and they are observed to roost side by side, even thrusting their heads, at such times, into the plumage of each other, and thus, by a variety of delicate attentions, succeed in ameliorating the misfortunes of confinement and unnatural restraint. Even her own image in a looking-glass often seems to diminish the weariness of solitude, and by the side of this pleasing phantom, the Parrot or the Canary sinks satisfied to repose."
Most of the first historic references to the bright and colorful "parakeetos," or "parroquets," as they were commonly called, were to their depredations on crops, the noisy clamor when gathered in flocks, or when they were killed to make a tasty "parrot-pie."
There are also references to captive parrots in the narratives of explorers and travelers.
Christopher Gist of Great Britain explored the western frontier on two voyages.
During the first voyage to explore the Ohio country of west Virginia, on 14 April 1751 he noted: "... in climbing up the Cliffs and Rocks this Day two of our Horses fell down, and were pretty much hurt, and a Paroquete, which I got from the Indians, on the other Side of the Ohio (where there were a great many) died of a Bruise he got by a Fall; tho it was but a Trifle I was much concerned at losing Him, as he was perfectly tame, and had been very frisk all the Way, and I had still Corn enough to feed Him ..."
Gist was at the Lower Shawnee Town, along the Ohio River, in the southern part of what became the state of Ohio.
In his account of an American Journey, Moreau de St. Mery wrote in his journal: "October 13, 1794. ... On leaving Newark for Brunswick we experienced a delay rarely encountered on this route. M. Loutherbourg, son of the celebrated painter and himself a portrait painter, was traveling with us in the stage. He had with him a highly intelligent green parrot, and when he let the parrot out of his cage, the bird went and perched high up in one of the trees that bordered the road. The stage willingly stopped at the request of the grief-stricken M. Loutherbourg, who got out, called the parrot and showed him the cage, whereupon the deserter again imprisoned himself."
There are numerous other references to the parakeet being kept in captivity after the period when the Reconciliation Quilt was sewn. Early issues of ornithological journals had articles about captive birds.
A Dr. Nowotny had a pair that laid eggs, as described in an article titled "The Breeding of the Carolina Paroquet in Captivity" in the 1898 issue of Auk, a journal of ornithology.
Renowned ornithologist, Robert Ridgway had young hatch from birds he kept. One was given to an acquaintance Paul Bartsch, and was named Doodles. In 1906, Doodles was his picture taken while he was clinging to the neck of a Mr. Bryan.
The last known living Carolina Parakeet, Incas, died in captivity on 21 February 1918 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
All that now remains of the species are published notes and a few drab research skins in a museum.
The depiction in the Reconciliation Quilt adds another bit of history for a bird species that has been extinct for nine decades.
The Reconciliation Quilt was acquired in 2001 by the International Quilt Study Center. It is currently on display in the gallery of the newly opened "Quilt House," on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.