Newton’s Parakeet, Psittacula exsul

Newton’s Parakeet or the Rodrigues Parakeet (Psittacula exsul) is an extinct species of parrot that was native to the Mascarene island of Rodrigues located in the western Indian Ocean. It was closely related to the Alexandrine Parrot of the same genus and was likely descended from it. It diverged from related species in several of its features, signifying that it had most likely been isolated on Rodrigues for a long period of time.

It was roughly 16 inches in length, about the size of a Rose-ringed Parakeet. It was likely grayish or a slate blue in coloration, which isn’t normal in Psittacula, a genus containing mostly green species. The males had stronger colors than the females and featured a reddish color as opposed to black on the beak, but details of a mature male’s appearance are not certain; only one male specimen is known and it is believed to have been an immature. Mature males might have possessed red patches on the wing like the Alexandrine parakeet. Both the male and the female had a black collar running from the chin to the nape, which would propose that there were both green and blue color morphs, but there is no definitive explanation for these reports. Not much is known about the behavior in life, but it might have fed on the nuts of the bois d’olive tree, along with leaves. It was quite tame and was able to mimic speech.

This parakeet was first mentioned by French naturalist Francois Leguat in the year 1708, and was only mentioned a handful of times by other writers after that. The specific name “exsul” is in reference to Leguat, who was exiled from France. Only two life drawings are in existence, both of a single specimen held in captivity in the 1770s. The first specimen known to science, which is a female, became the holotype when the species was described in 1872. A male parakeet was collected in 1874 and these two specimens are the only ones that exist today. It became rare because of deforestation and possibly hunting, but it is thought that it was finally wiped out by a series of cyclones and storms that hit the island in the late 19th century. There was unfounded speculation regarding the possible survival of the species as late as 1967.

Image Caption: One of only two known depictions of living Psittacula exsul, the other was also produced by Jossigny. Credit: Jossigny/Wikipedia