THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL


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Mark Bittner Q&A

Mark Bittner responds to viewer questions about the parrots, the film and his life. Many people have written in to ask about Mark's experiences since filming concluded; find answers and updates on The Film, The Parrots Background and Updates and filmmaker Judy Irving and Mark Bittner's Q&A pages.

Dear Mark,
I was very moved by your documentary. I certainly hope you still know the young woman who filmed it. My question concerns the most beautiful segment about Tupalo. You posed an excellent question that I've often wondered about...whether animals can emote. I had to look up in the dictionary anthropomorphism. I wonder if you, and possibly I, are more anthropopathists than anthropomorphists? In any event, The segment was quite stirring, and your devotion to these birds is most appreciated. Do you still love them?

Mark's response:

Yes, I still know the young woman who made the film. I married her. And I have no doubt at all that animals feel emotions. I wrote a long chapter about this in my book about the parrots. I believe that the question as to whether they feel things comes about from a certain arrogance that some human beings carry with them. And yes, I still love them. Dearly. They opened the door for me to cross over from my old life to my new life. This isn't a fanciful notion, but quite real. While I no longer feed them, I still look out for them and try to protect them from those who would deliberately or inadvertently cause them harm. I will do this for as long as I am able. How could I not?

Valerie Simonton
Sunland, California

Did you write the book before, during or after Judy Irving made the documentary? If during or after, how influential was Judy in the writing of the book?

Mark's response:

I was already working on the book before Judy came along. I continued working on it through the making of the film. We made a conscious decision right at the beginning to keep the two projects separate and independent of one another. Each project had its own center and would have been disturbed by referring to the other work. (This is one reason that the fact I was writing a book isn't mentioned in the film.)

Rose Medina
Manhattan NY

I love your story about the cherry headed conure i owned at one time a mitred conure and their exceptional creatures.

is there anything you would have done differently during your time with the flock?

I appreciate all the hard work and hard times you've gone through and i applaud you for your work! thanks

btw: we have quaker parrots in City island i have a captive born one in my possetion and he is the love of my life. because of you i am dedicated to rescuing birds. thank you for inspiring me.

Mark's response:

I would not have fed them seeds from my lips. I've since learned things that make it clear that it was not a good idea. Also, it created annoyances for me when I would have a particularly insistent bird on my shoulder biting my ears, demanding seeds, while I was trying to pay attention to other things going on within the flock.

Phyliss
Boston

How would you address the concern that you interfered with the flock's development by altering their diet, taking birds into your home and teaching them that humans can be a food source?

Mark's response:

My influence on the flock was considerable, no doubt, but it did not change their essential direction. At all times during my six years with them, most of their food came out of the landscape. Whenever I did not feed them they went on about their business without any disruption. I was gone for a year and a half and the flock grew and thrived in my absence. (I have stopped feeding them entirely, by the way) I took in the sick only. Most did not survive their illnesses. So I was more like a hospice than a hospital.

Temple City, CA

Hi Mark!

My question to you as the "Mommy" (and yes my little Sun Conure can say Mommy),is how are you able to know what sex the birds are? We assume that out little conure "Felipe" is a boy because in my daughter's research before getting it, it seems like color determines sex like peacocks the more colorful the more likely it is a male. Felipe is quite colorful so we think he's a male. I see that you gave your birds male/female names. We thought that the only way to determine sex is to have a lab test done - so how do you know?

LOVED the documentary - I laughed and cried and hugged & kissed Felipe afterwards.

Mark's response:

Often I was simply guessing. But when birds paired up it was always clear which was female and which was male. The females disappeared entirely during the breeding season.

Diane
Fort Myers Beach, FL

What was the nature of Tupelo's illness and how long had she been sick? It broke my heart to see her that way. I was devastated after losing a pet who also died during the night--my sympathies go out to you.

Mark's response:

We've since learned that her illness was probably caused by a worm that some of the parrots have been getting from racoon feces most likely. It invades the spinal cord and the brain. The infestation was brief, but the effects were long lasting. She died about a year after her problem began.

robert davis
katonah, new york

Mark-You now live with parrots and a cat. My girlfriend has parrots and I have a cat. We currently do not live together, but if we ever do, I would want to be sure her birds are safe without giving up my cat. How do you work it out. Thanks.

Mark's response:

The cat is infirm. She is much too old to be chasing birds. She's also afraid of them.

Pamela Hernandez
Visalia, CA

This was a great film. The parrots & their interaction with Mark, his interpretation and understanding of their behaviors, was educational. My husband & I were glad that he had a good reason to cut his hair at the end of the film.

Has he continued to study the parrots or is he now studying other birds?

Mark's response:

I'm not studying birds at all right now. I've devoted myself to writing. I'm working on a book about my days on the street. But it's not just about me. It's more about a time in history when people were less materialistic and looking for spiritual answers. My sense is that a lot of people who lived through that time have forgotten what it was really all about. It wasn't supposed to be sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It wasn't for me. It was about being a seeker. The book is also for younger people who have grown up in a time where materialism seems absolutely vital to survival. I want to remind people that there is another way if we want to create one.

I loved the film and really admire your compassion for the birds and recognition of their personalities. I hate to ask a painful question, but at the end I wondered how dependent you think Conner was on the food you provided for him and no longer did when you moved? Do you think that his lack of interaction with you contributed to his going downhill or was it simply his age that made his health begin to slide?

Mark's response:

I have no doubt that it was his age. I saw evidence of it two years before he died. And like all the birds, he was never dependent on me for food or any kind of emotional sustenance. Generally, he preferred to have nothing to do with me! He merely endured my affection for him. He'd been a pet once, so he knew human beings. But he clearly preferred other parrots.

Dear Mark and Judy,

I don't have a question; just want to thank you for all that you have done and to thank Judy for making the film. It‚s folks like you that make life better for all of us. May God bless you both.

Sincerely,

Chet Headley

PS:

Looking forward to getting your book tomorrow.

Mark's response:

Thank you, Chet. Judy and I have been very fortunate. It's hard to find work that you love. That's something that I've always wanted. I think everybody wants that. I'd always wanted to write, but I never felt that I had a story to tell until toward the end of my experience with the flock. It all came from my love for them, though, not from the desire to have a story to tell. So it felt clean.

Jody
Minneapolis, mn

Totally captivated with your story telling, complete with tears. Grew up on a farm, always felt sorry for the fate of the many creatures there for the food chain, as well as wild "nuisence" and pets. Question is : do you find the other bird species such as quail and stork as endearing. Do you feel the lack of endearment allows for meat eating in the human food chain, or just misunderstanding?

You are an inspiration to BE who you are. Many of us sell out. I imagine you dont 'need' a nightly drink.

Mark's response:

I won't necessarily feel that same endearment for other birds until I get close to them and I can actually feel their presence. Then I usually say, "Oh, right. It's not just parrots." The meat question is too detailed to go into here. Some of it is culture, some of it is convenience, some of it is ignorance. I went vegan for awhile, but couldn't maintain it. I would try again, but it's almost impossible when you're on the road a lot, as I have been the last three or four years.

Lori
Cleveland ,Ohio

I can't begin to express just how much I enjoyed this film & wonderful story - more than I can just write here anyway. I have no doubt that I will be buying and reading your book within the next week (looking forward to it) - and was wondering if you are planning another book in the future? BTW, Thank you, this story is very much needed in this world of ours, it touched me and reminded me there are good people who see the connection of life in all things after all.

Mark's response:

I am working on a new book now about my days on the street. I'm almost done with the first draft, with at least two more drafts to follow. Probably three more drafts. It's going very well. I like writing. I never need to get away from it for awhile or anything like that. It will be done in a reasonable amount of time.

Travis
Springfield, OH

The guy with the glasses at the beginning of the film asking questions and being rude. Was he a person that you and the director knew or was he a developer looking to profit from the destruction of Tele Hill? The questions that he asked seemed to convey the message that if no one was there to feed the parrots they would be able to survive and move on. Meaning Telegraph Hill is not necessary for the parrots survival.

Mark's response:

He was a fellow just passing through on a walk. He was not unlike a number of others that I met occasionally: jaded and ironic. But he was clearly a bit of a showboat.

To read more visitor comments on THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL, visit Talkback.

modified 6/1/07


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