The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story . . . with Wings
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Like a lot of young people in the 1970s, Mark Bittner took the path of the “dharma bum.” When the counterculture faded, Mark held on, seeking shelter in the nooks and crannies of San Francisco’s fabled bohemian neighborhood, North Beach. While living on the eastern slope of Telegraph Hill, he made a magical discovery: a flock of wild parrots. In this unforgettable story, Bittner recounts how he became fascinated by the birds and patiently developed friendships with them that would last more than six years. When a documentary filmmaker comes along to capture the phenomenon on film, the story takes a surprising turn, and Bittner’s life truly takes flight.
“A fascinating love story with wings.” —Boston Herald
“[A] charming memoir. For devoted birders everywhere.” —Reader’s Digest, Editor’s Choice
“[An] inspirational saga of one man finding his life’s meaning in the most serendipitous way.” —San Jose Mercury News
“Instructive, surprising, sweet.” —Gary Snyder, author of Turtle Island and Mountains and Rivers Without End
fire escape floor with Dogen, Paco, and Mandela perched anxiously above them on the railing. Gibson was doing the lion’s share of the chasing; Oliver seemed to be acting in more of a supporting role. One of the most timid birds in the flock, Bo was not faring well at all. Each time Gibson caught up with him, he attacked Bo violently. I reached down and gently tried to break it up, but Gibson ignored me. I tried to bat him away then, but I couldn’t scare him—which was bizarre. The birds had
sneaking up on me when I had my shoes off and biting my toes. I found it amusing only the first couple of times. Parrots, like most birds, go to sleep when the sun sets, but my activity was keeping them awake. As it got late, I could see the annoyance in their eyes. The moment I turned out the light, they always threw up a little cheer. The parrots were still coming to the garden and to Dick’s feeder, but I was such a hermit that we seldom saw each other. Dogen, Paco, and Bucky paid close
flock. Not that the flock was in dire need of new members. The breeding season had been a phenomenal success—greater than I’d dreamed possible. Seventeen babies fledged that year. I’d never seen more than three pairs breed successfully, but this time at least seven pairs had babies. Maybe the parrots were discovering more and more suitable nest holes as they became intimate with the landscape. The flock population now stood at forty-one. There were so many that I had trouble keeping everyone’s
Ginsberg rest. He must have seen the disappointment in my face, for he seemed to have second thoughts. He left the examination room and came back with a bottle of what he said was an experimental mushroom extract. I took it, grateful that he was willing at least to try something. When Ginsberg and I returned home, there was a large box on my porch. Attached to the box was a note from a man who worked at the bottom of the hill and often came up the stairs on his lunch breaks to watch me feed.
parrots. I saw the first group of four parrots in 1990, two years after I moved in. In October of the same year, their numbers increased to around a dozen. I didn’t know what to make of it. As the population grew, so did their racket. They were extraordinarily feisty, and fought with each other almost constantly. Most of it looked playful, but there were occasions when it seemed to take a more serious turn. They’d go at each other on the power lines, breast to breast, flapping their wings to