THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL


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The Film

Four green and red parrots perched on tree branches atop a hill in San Francisco

I don’t think of myself as an eccentric. I saw these wild parrots. They were a big mystery to me, and I wanted to find out who they were. 
 — Mark Bittner

In a celebration of urban wildness, THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL follows formerly homeless street musician Mark Bittner into San Francisco’s avian subculture, where a remarkable flock of wild green-and-red parrots live and work to survive. Dubbed the “Bohemian St. Francis,” Bittner falls in with the flock as he searches for his path through life, unaware that the wild parrots will do more for him than eat his sunflower seeds.

The film reveals moving relationships between Bittner and the birds and explores passionate dynamics among the parrots, often linking their antics to human behavior.

Although he is no scientist, Bittner becomes something of an avian expert as he consults local birders and as he feeds, names, studies and protects the cherry-headed conures—escaped pets who have begun to breed in the wilds of the city.

Parrot “stars” include Connor, the lonely blue-crowned conure, ostracized by the cherry-heads; Picasso and Sophie, an affectionate couple who love to cuddle; Pushkin, a single father who raises three babies on his own; and Mingus, a cherry-headed conure who tries to join the flock, but, hobbled by a crippled leg, comes to live with Mark Bittner in his house instead.

The film culminates with Bittner’s race to save the parrots when his home (and that of some of the parrots) is threatened. Meanwhile, his own quest for survival and companionship uncannily parallels that of his birds. In the film’s climactic ending Bittner does find the meaning he sought—though no one could have predicted the surprising form in which it comes.

Update

In March 2007, THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL Director Judy Irving reported on what she and Mark Bittner have been up to since filming completed.

After a year and a half in Oakland, Mark Bittner is back on Telegraph Hill, settled for the first time in his adult life in his own home, next door to the cottage he’d been caretaking in the movie. He’s working on a new book: a memoir about his time on the street, pre-parrots. Judy Irving is finishing a documentary about a legendary bar owner who holds the record as the oldest person to swim from Alcatraz on New Year’s Day, and is searching for another human/animal story for her next feature. She is living with Mark, four parrots and a cat on Telegraph Hill. Mark and Judy were married last June.

In May 2007, Judy Irving provided the following update on the parrots:

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 10 to 1 to keep the parrots wild by passing an ordinance that prohibits feeding them in city parks. The new rule makes it "unlawful to feed or offer food to any red-masked parakeet” in any San Francisco park. For many reasons, this is good for parrots and good for people, and the ordinance had widespread support.

Find photos, video and updates on the flock >>

modified 5/24/07

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