The lost macaws of the Caribbean

The link goes to a poster of the putative extinct macaws of the Caribbean. Wikipedia says that there have been thirteen proposed Caribbean macaw species, but that there are doubts about this because only three have any extant physical remains.

The linked poster itself says that, due to prehistoric and historic human impacts, three-quarters of the original Psittaciformes of the Caribbean are extinct.

Extinct birds have long been of interest to me, even though learning about them makes me sad. When I found out about the Carolina parakeet, I sometimes tried to envision what the eastern United States would be like if they still lived. These Caribbean macaws are especially poignant to me because the Islands, in so many ways, remind me of the South American mainland, but with entire broad taxa missing – no howler monkeys, no toucans, etc. Those taxa may never have reached the Caribbean; but to think that macaws once flew over the Islands’ forests – what must that have been like?

When I used to walk that long road from the village to the beach, I would pass a house with painted wooden macaws on swinging perches decorating the veranda. I find them a poor substitute for the prospect of seeing the real thing flying free.


I live in New Zealand, and the ghosts of our extinct birds haunt us everywhere. They evolved without people or even any land mammals (other than a handful of species of small bat). When humans arrived about a thousand years ago many died out due to habitat changes, introduced predators or hunting. Some are still tottering on the brink of extinction. I constantly imagine what it must have been like before people arrived here - it must have been incredible!

We had a daughter a couple of months ago, and we named her Huia after a beautiful endemic wattlebird that became extinct in the 20th century. It was a sacred bird to Māori, and the last sightings were in the mountain ranges we live beside.


I’ve heard stories they are still there… :)

Maybe your daughter will be the one to re-discover them :o


It’s good to know that there are other people who think about extinct birds a lot. I have a small book shelf devoted to books detailing avian extinctions. I find them depressing and fascinating, and deeply informative to where species are failed by conservation. The lost Macaws are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of lost diversity in the Caribbean. Think of all the known and unknown flightless birds that have been outcompeted by introduced mammals (today only represented by the possibly extant Zapata rail). The sad part of the whole affair is that without widespread invasive control and native habitat restoration these unique animals will continue to slip to extinction. Island restoration has to happen now not wait 20 years.


It’s definitely not the same, but there are a few well established colonies of Quaker Parrots Myiopsitta monachus ( which are close in coloration to the Carolina parakeet, though they lack the striking orange head) in the NYC metro area. They build massive nests in the trees and tall human structures and loudly squawk as they fly around. In the winter you can sometimes catch them jumping around in the snow, and it’s pretty cool to see the contrast of their bright green feathers with blue wingtips on the white snow. Best snow parrot video I can find is from a few years ago in Brooklyn, but you can see them all the time just across the river in NJ or parts of Connecticut.


I think about what the world would be like if these species never went extinct very often, and what spectacles of nature we could’ve been so lucky to observe. Imagine a flock of millions of Passenger Pigeons flying over the eastern U.S. like roaring thunderclouds that took hours, if not days to pass by. Imagine going on a vacation to Madagascar and catching a glimpse of an elephant bird running into the brush. Imagine going to Hawaii and being surrounded by hundreds of different species of birds that are found no where else on the planet, and are specialized for the environment they evolved in- without humans. The story of the O’os is one that really hits the feels button. Imagine flying to Mauritius and seeing firsthand one species that is the essence of extinction: The dodo


I have the same arguments with others. What would happen if all extinct animals existed and lived now. Surely this world will be full of colors and sounds from these animals. Not just birds, but all animals.

Now many animals are on the verge of extinction. Coupled with climate change and garbage. So now humans must come together to prevent other animals from going extinct.

Apart from supporting conservationists to prevent extinct animals from “disappearing”, we must also protect potential animals that may become extinct in the near future. Because they are a valuable legacy of this long and complex evolutionary process.

The extinction of animals creates inexplicable emotional feelings. And this makes me want to become a zoologist or an ecologist. Because with it, maybe I can protect our fragile world.


Imagine! I love the idea they are out there still - there were credible sightings up until the 1960s. I think they migrated between high and low altitude old-growth forests, so the chance of them still being around is near zero. But, maybe somewhere deep in the Urewera’s? :)
I’d be happy if she just showed an interest in our manu.

Most recently-extinct species live on as rumors that they may still exist. Recalling the stages of grieving, and acknowledging that grieving a beloved species is as real as grieving a loved one – denial is one of the stages.


I feel much the same way even about “common” species which are not nearly so common as they once were. There are so many species which currently exist at population densities 30%, 10%, or often even just 1% of their historic numbers. What would the woods, the oceans, the prairies be like if these species were still as abundant as before?


The story of westward expansion in North America gives some clue. It is almost a cliche, the way the early explorers and first white settlers in a region would describe runs of fish that “you could walk across on their backs.” That is hyperbole, of course, but it was the best they could do at describing the abundance of the fish.


It’s interesting what’s the worst - recent extinctions where photos or even videos of species exist or extinctiona happened 200-300 years ago we have only scarce info about and sometimes paintings that don’t clarify much (check old gravures of species that are still here, they’re hard to recognise, artists weren’t really into depicting real characteristics of birds, and different groups have no art about them at all).

That is true. In NZ there are sometimes ‘sightings’ of probably extinct species on quite a regular basis, and there are people actively hunting for some of them, e.g. South Island kōkako. However, we do have a precedent - the South Island takahē was thought to be extinct for half a century until it was rediscovered in 1948, and that is a large (bigger than a chicken), flightless bird.

Yeah, that’s the hint of it. Obviously they weren’t entomologists or herpetologists so we don’t really have accounts for a lot of the other stuff we look at, but even the evidence I see from various points in the 1900s depresses me.

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