San Francisco Sundays

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

According to local myth, in the 90s a pair of cherry-headed conures escaped from their owners, found other parrot escapees (of the mitred variety) and created a commune of wild parrots right within the city of San Francisco. Apparently, within a decade there were already hundred of birds who had taken refuge on Telegraph Hill.

San Francisco’s feathered friends became renowned after Judy Irving released her documentary chronicling the relationship between Mark Bittner and the flock. At the time of filming (in 1998) Bittner was a struggling musician who made an unlikely friendship with the, then small, group of birds, even naming them and noting differences in their personalities. Mark Bittner’s claims that he is “not an eccentric” sets a humorous tone to the beginning of the indie film which takes a very endearing turn.

These days, there are well over a hundred birds that fly all over the city. Before sunset, a large group of the parrots often fly to the palm trees in Sue Bierman Park across from the Embarcadero, where you’ll spot eager tourists trying to feed them. You can usually hear them before you see them, and when you do, they’re typically pecking and harassing each other before they fly to the next tree to nibble on firethorn berries. An astute observation made by Bittner in the movie was that “they didn’t even seem like birds to me, they were more like monkeys”.

If you love idiosyncratic San Francisco facts and classic views of the city, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is available for free to SF Public Library card holders on Kanopy or on the Hoopla app.



Words & photos: Mina Seville
Videos: Alex Seville

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

According to local myth, in the 90s a pair of cherry-headed conures escaped from their owners, found other parrot escapees (of the mitred variety) and created a commune of wild parrots right within the city of San Francisco. Apparently, within a decade there were already hundred of birds who had taken refuge on Telegraph Hill.

San Francisco’s feathered friends became renowned after Judy Irving released her documentary chronicling the relationship between Mark Bittner and the flock. At the time of filming (in 1998) Bittner was a struggling musician who made an unlikely friendship with the, then small, group of birds, even naming them and noting differences in their personalities. Mark Bittner’s claims that he is “not an eccentric” sets a humorous tone to the beginning of the indie film which takes a very endearing turn.

These days, there are well over a hundred birds that fly all over the city. Before sunset, a large group of the parrots often fly to the palm trees in Sue Bierman Park across from the Embarcadero, where you’ll spot eager tourists trying to feed them. You can usually hear them before you see them, and when you do, they’re typically pecking and harassing each other before they fly to the next tree to nibble on firethorn berries. An astute observation made by Bittner in the movie was that “they didn’t even seem like birds to me, they were more like monkeys”.

If you love idiosyncratic San Francisco facts and classic views of the city, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is available for free to SF Public Library card holders on Kanopy or on the Hoopla app.



Words & photos: Mina Seville
Videos: Alex Seville