Jan 11, 2010

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

by Mark Bittner

After reading a novel that featured the wild parrots in San Francisco -Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots- I was delighted to finally read a true account of these birds. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the story of one man's relationship with these birds, mostly cherry-headed conures, which have established themselves in the city. Bittner was living in a studio apartment on Telegraph Hill when he first began to take an interest in the small parrots. He started feeding them at regular times, gradually getting the flock used to his presence until he could stand outside on the balcony, with birds eating from his hand and perched on his shoulders. The more he observed the birds, the more he wanted to know about them. He gave them names, sorted out some of their relationships, and rescued ones that were injured or sick, nursing them back to health in his home. He began asking around about the parrots, trying to learn more about the origins of the flock. Surprised to find that no one was studying the conures (and many people wanted them eradicated because they are non-natives), Bittner began taking detailed notes himself on their behavior, and after six years had become something of a local authority on the birds. He gave slide shows and lectures, and after the book was published, pushed to get legislation passed to protect the birds. His book is a wonderful read full of details about the parrots' distinct personalities. It's also a story of the author's own search for meaning in his life, for stability (in his early years in San Francisco he was homeless), spirituality and love.

You can read more about Mark Bittner and the parrots on his website. There's some gorgeous photos there, too.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 288 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Loily's Book Tryst


bermudaonion said...

What a wonderful story. I would be fascinated with those birds too and think I would like the book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I am assuming this directly correlates with the documentary? Which, I must say, was incredibly dear. The kids and I loved it. I thought it was also very cool that the bird man and the lady doing the documentary got together.

Susan B. Evans said...

This has been waiting in my stacks for almost a year! Maybe I'll pick it up soon :) Excellent review.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- Yes! I don't usually think of birds as having much personality or being loving towards people, but the parrots certainly were.

Sandy Nawrot- It does. Near the end of the book he talks about meeting Judy Irving, and the making of the film. It's such a lovely story. I don't think I've seen the documentary, but I know I want to!

Susan- thanks! I'll look out for your thoughts, when you do read it.

Bookfool said...

I loved this book. Like your said to Kathy, I didn't realize birds could have such distinctive personalities till I read it. Also, have you seen the documentary? It's wonderful, too.

Gavin said...

I've seen the documentary but not the book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!elote

Jenny said...

I've heard of the documentary - I had no idea it was a book first. What a good thing for Bittner to have done. People can be so neat.

Stefanie said...

My parents live near San Diego and they have a flock of wild parrots in their area. My mom does nothing but complain about them and the mess and noise they make. Maybe I should give her a copy of this book and it would make her feel more hospitable toward them.

Jeane said...

Bookfool- I don't think I've seen the documentary yet, but I'm eager to do so!

Gavin- I've read the book but not seen the documentary yet. We both need to remedy the other lack!

Jenny- It is pretty neat, isn't it? He was from having a casual interest in the birds to caring deeply for them, studying and documenting their behavior, and promoting their welfare.

Stefanie- In the book the author mentions a lot of neighbors who complain about them, too. His downstairs neighbor would get a big mess of seed hulls and bird droppings on his balcony, and the author would clean up after them each day. They can be pretty noisy, too- I'm not surprised that some people dislike them, actually. I know I wouldn't want to live in an area where they made racket when I was trying to sleep!