Movie Review: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

While Susan & I were babysiting for Jordan, Craig brought up the DVD for the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The premise of this documentary is the flock of wild parrots that live in the North Beach section of San Francisco and is the best bird-related film I’ve seen since Winged Migration. At the heart of the movie is Mark Bittner, a man who feeds the birds daily, cares for the sick and injured, and acts as an educator and advocate on their behalf. At first I was a bit discouraged, hoping for more parrots and less Mark, but then I warmed up to him. Bittner is compared with St. Francis, but I see him more as a Jane Goodall of urban parrots. He names the birds, learns their behavior, and observes flock dynamics.

The film introduces us to several parrots. My favorites include Mingus, the only parrot who actually want’s to stay in Bittner’s house and dances when Bittner plays guitar. Connor, the only Blue-Crowned Conure among a flock majorly made up of Cherry-headed Conures, is in many ways the feature bird of the film. His isolation and loneliness is heart-tugging and makes you wish you kind find a nice female parrot of his species to release in San Francisco. Connor is also something of the avian equivalent of Bittner who is an outsider among humans and also without a mate (at one point of the film Bittner says he won’t cut his hair until he has a girlfriend).

The movie also is a tribute to San Francisco capturing the beauty of the city, especially the tree lined steps of Telegraph Hill where Bittner lives and feeds the flock. A humorous bit collects interviews with several local characters offering their own theories and urban legends of how the flock came to San Francisco. The film comes to a conclusion with tear-inducing heartbreak as well as a surprise life change for Bittner. This was a good film and I feel bad that Craig & I had the Friday sillies and giggled about several potential double entendres. On the other hand, the geeky guy who tries to pick a fight with Bittner at the start of the film deserved some ridicule. The DVD includes extra clips and an update on Bittner and the flock (which you may also read about at Bittner’s website linked above).

As a result of watching this movie Susan and I talked a bit about invasive species. I learned for the first time that starlings are not indigenous to the United States! Now I know from experience that a starling can invade one’s house and nest in one’s dryer vent, but I would never have guessed from the vast flocks of Wild Starlings of Winter Hill that they are not native to our land. I did a web search and learned from this Cornell website that all European Starlings in North America are descendants of 100 birds released in New York City’s Central Park by people who wanted to populate the park with all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays! Now that’s just crazy stuff.


4 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

  1. One bird mistaking a dryer exhaust vent for a potential nesting cavity hardly constitutes an invasion. But it leads to an interesting discussion point: does invasion require an intention to invade? What would that intention entail? Planning and coordination? Attempting to revise some boundary or border? Or is invasion merely a perception of those who feel someone (or something) has attempted to appropriate “their” space?


  2. Invasive species is a term for any species introduced into a new environment by a human agent that is able to breed and spread widely in that new environment. I was punning on that term when referring to the time a starling nested in my dryer vent. I actually have no problems with flocks of starlings in my (and their) neighborhood. I was just surprised that they weren’t native to the US since they are so prevalent. Actually, if it weren’t for the fire hazard I’d have no problem with a starling in my dryer vent, although she was rather noisy making scratching sounds early in the morning.


  3. With due respect to how invasive species can bollux up an ecosystem, I’m a big fan of starlings and of the parrots of San Fran as well..


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