THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL


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Background

Mark Bittner smiling as a green parrot pecks at his finger while another parrot looks

Most of the birds in the documentary are the same species, known as the cherry-headed conure. Its scientific name is Aratinga erythrogenys.

Cherry-headed conures come from the west side of the Andes in southern Ecuador and the extreme north of Peru.

They eat a variety of foods, including juniper berries, pine nuts, blackberries, apples, loquats, strawberry guavas, pears, cotoneaster berries and English hawthorne. They also eat blossoms. One of their favorites is cherry blossoms.

Instead of building nests they expand previously existing holes in trees. The holes have to face a certain direction and be a certain size and height above the ground. One of their favorite nesting trees is the Canary Island date palm.


I was looking for something that I could really get into. I didn’t expect it to go this far.
—Mark Bittner

From October 1993 to September 1999, Mark Bittner was closely involved with a flock of wild parrots that live in the San Francisco waterfront area. His relationship with the flock began when he discovered the parrots in the trees and along the power lines near the house he was looking after on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. He decided to feed the birds on the fire escape and before long they were arriving every day for the feedings, perching on his arms and head while onlookers took in the scene.

Bittner gradually came to know each bird individually, their quirks and personalities, and over time he named them accordingly. He left Telegraph Hill in late 1999, and when he returned in 2001, he began to feed the flock again. However, this time he limited his feeding to once a day, whereas before he had fed them as often as five times a day.

By 2001, the flock population had grown so large that Bittner was no longer able to identify all of the individual birds. In late 2005, he lost access to the feeding spot, and as of March 2007 is not feeding them at all. But according to Bittner this doesn't matter because the parrots have never actually needed his feedings to survive.

Bittner’s book about this experience, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story ...with Wings, was based on a journal he kept during the first six years he spent with the parrots and was published in 2004. The documentary by the same title hit theaters in 2005.

Read an excerpt from Mark Bittner's book >>

Get updates on the flock, their habitat, and individual birds from the film >>


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