Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Ralph Arnold mentioned in one of his articles that it was not uncommon for the first settlers of Van Buren County to find an abundance of small parrots in the timber during summer. These colorful birds returned annually after migrating south for the winter.

Palimpsest, Vol. 12, 1931 has an article “Birds That Have Vanished,” by Ely Briggs. This article is one of several references I have found recently that mentions the extinction of parrots in Iowa.

When Thomas H. McBride, in his work entitled “In Cabins and Sod Houses” spoke of parrots in the trees of southeastern Iowa, people thought that this was simply a figure of speech. However, McBride was stating fact.

The word “Paroquet” is not even found in modern dictionaries. It is a somewhat archaic spelling of parakeet, known as a small variety of parrot. Everyone is familiar with the household parakeet, or “budgie,” which is a special breed of parakeet developed for captivity and sold as household pets. They have soft stripes on their feathers, but come in a variety of colors such as soft yellow, blue, lavender, and several shades of green.

The Carolina Paroquet or Parakeet was a related species, was larger, and had a long, tapered tail. Once very numerous in the Mississippi Valley, it had beautiful green body feathers, a yellow head and a red face. Its favorite food was the cocklebur.

This bird inhabited a large area of the country, appearing as far north as the southern edge of the Great Lakes, as far west as eastern Colorado, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, Lt. Zebulon Pike reported seeing these exotic birds in the Rocky Mountains in 1806.

It was not uncommon during the 1830s and 1840s to find the beautiful creatures in Van Buren County. The last known appearance of them in Iowa was reported by Elliott Coues in 1874. Since then, their extermination has been complete and museums of natural history are fortunate to have photographs or mounted specimens of these very rare but once prominent birds.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick