Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Footage of Carolina Parakeets

Wednesday, January 18, 2006
One of the things I love about my job as editor of Bird Watcher's Digest is that I never know what the next phone call or e-mail will be about. Yesterday I got an e-mail and phone call from a young woman from a California advertising agency. "I've got some footage of Carolina parakeets that will be appearing in The New World, a film opening this Friday!"

Naturally, my interest was piqued.

The New World tells the story of the initial encounter between Europeans and Native Americans during the establishment of the Jamestown (Virginia) settlement in 1607. It's also the story of the relationship between John Smith, part of that first band of Europeans, and Pocahontas, a young Native American woman living with her people near what would become Jamestown.
"Excuse me, my good man. Is this Jamestown?"

Or, if you prefer to get your information directly from press releases, here's what Tasha, from the ad agency sent me:
"The New World, opening in theaters nationwide January 20th, is an epic adventure set amid the encounter of European and Native American cultures during the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 1607. Inspired by the legend of John Smith and Pocahontas, acclaimed filmmaker TERRENCE MALICK transforms this classic story into a sweeping exploration of love, loss and discovery, both a celebration and an elegy of the America that was…and the America that was yet to come.

Against the dramatic and historically rich backdrop of a pristine Eden inhabited by a great native civilization, Malick has set a dramatized tale of two strong-willed characters, a passionate and noble young native woman and an ambitious soldier of fortune who find themselves torn between the undeniable requirements of civic duty and the inescapable demands of the heart.

In the early years of the 17th century, North America is much as it has been for the previous five thousand years—a vast land of seemingly endless primeval wilderness populated by an intricate network of tribal cultures. Although these nations live in graceful harmony with their environment, their relations with each other are a bit more uneasy. All it will take to upset the balance is an intrusion from the outside. One is not long in coming."
Chief Powhatan and his people were welcoming to the strangers from across the sea, up to a point.
So how do parakeets fit into all of this?

A digitally created pair of Carolina parakeets has a nine-second appearance in one of the scenes between John Smith (played hirsutely by Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (played by the beautiful and unknown-til-now Q'Orianka Kilcher). Oh, and the movie also features one of my favorite actors, Wes Studi, as a warrior. You might remember him as Magua from Last of the Mohicans.

Turns out, the movie's writer/director, Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) is a bird watcher himself and thought BWD and other media outlets might be interested in the digital recreation of an extinct bird species. Well, he was right!

The amount of time we see the parakeets is fleetingly short, but it's still pretty amazing to see, and to imagine what the living birds must have been like.

View the clip of the Carolina parakeets from The New World at your chosen size and bandwidth.
Quicktime, small.
Quicktime, large.
Windows, small.
Windows, large.

The movie's official site is here.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provided audio files of natural sounds and creatures for the film. And although no sound recordings exist of the Carolina parakeet, that did not stop the lab from creating one. Here's the press release from Cornell:
"What would a Carolina parakeet sound like?" This was a difficult question because the species has been extinct since the 1920's. However, in 1607 Virginia, the parrot would have been one of the more colorful and noisy inhabitants of Pocahontas' world, and it was important to director Terrence Malick that the sounds of THE NEW WORLD be as historically accurate as the costumes and sets.

To this purpose, the production contacted the Macaulay Library at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology which houses the largest collection of animal sounds in the world, with more than 160,000 recordings, including 67 percent of the world's birds.

Curator of Audio Greg Budney took on the challenge of finding a Carolina parakeet stand-in. Although no recordings of the parrot exist, based on body size and beak shape, Greg determined that the song of the Aratinga mitrata or mitred parakeet would be a good approximation.

In the end, the Library provided cues for over 75 species of birds, frogs, insects and mammals that were appropriate for the time and place of the story, adding a rich layer of auditory detail to the sound mix of THE NEW WORLD.
The Lab of O did not have anything to do with the digital recreation of the parakeets. That was the work of a digital artist who used this well-known painting by John James Audubon as reference.

Bill of the Birds readers might also enjoy Julie Zickefoose's painting of this stunning species.

If you go to see The New World (remember it opens nationwide this Friday, January 20) take along your binoculars and try to catch a glimpse of the parakeets. Then, on Saturday, when you're out birding with your friends, you can say, "Yep, the LAST bird I focused these babies on was a Carolina parakeet!"


On January 19, 2006 at 9:25 AM Rondeau Ric said...

You certainly got my blood flowing this morning. Footage of an extinct species!!
Shades of the Ivory Bill!
Had another species been rediscovered? What great news.

Still a good story and I’ll take my bins with me when I see the movie.

Note: We received mail a while ago addressed to Ron Doe. Therefore….

Ron Doe Ric

On January 19, 2006 at 12:40 PM Bill of the Birds said...

Is Ron Doe John Doe's brother?

Thanks Ric!

On January 20, 2006 at 8:39 AM Rondeau Ric said...

Evidently, the Posties thought so.
It's scary when bureaucrats figure it out.


On February 22, 2009 at 11:23 AM Anonymous said...

Is it possible that that perhaps Incas, the last known live bird that died in 1918 was preserved in some manner? Perhaps with enough DNA, and today's technology, this species can be recreated.

On March 11, 2009 at 2:17 PM Anonymous said...