What drove one of the only U.S. parrot species to extinction?

The Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) once ranged from southern New England to Florida to Colorado, but by 1918, the last of its kind died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. One of the only native parrot species in the United States, it met a sudden demise that has remained a mystery. Did humans drive it to extinction, or were their other factors?

A recent study of the bird’s genome published in Current Biology concluded that its rapid disappearance suggests that humans were responsible. Scientists used samples of a specimen in Spain and from its closest living relative in South America and found no indication of inbreeding or disease.

The findings are “suggestive of an abrupt extinction process that left no marks in the parakeet genome,” study co-author Carles Lalueza Fox, a biologist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, told National Geographic.

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Header Image: A Carolina parakeet specimen in Spain provided the tissue that allowed researchers to sequence the extinct species’ genome. ©Marc Durà