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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

When I was 6 years old, I began begging my folks for a bird. By the time I turned 8 years old, I had my first parakeet, Perky.

Perky and I spent hours together each day – he taught me about handling and understanding birds (some days I was a better student than others) and he lived an exceptionally long and healthy life before he passed at 12 years old (apparently this is VERY old for a parakeet).

While it has never gotten any easier saying goodbye, over the years I have had many avian companions, culminating in the subject of this very blog.

Me kissing my angel’s soft feathery tummy.

One day last year I was in La Jolla, CA, on business and I wandered down to the beach to try to get a glimpse of the famous seals that liked to hang out on the rocks in the surf. But what struck me as soon as I arrived were all the BIRDS. Pelicans, cormorants, seagulls (my favorite sea bird)…..WOW.

While I was there, I happened to meet a young lady who was couch surfing her way across the country on a break from her studies to become a cop. I (characteristically) was afraid to venture down the cliff side to the crashing surf where most of the birds were hanging out. She (characteristically, I suspect) was not.

She encouraged me to inch my way down the rock face, and the closer I got to the bottom where the birds were, the more my enthusiasm at the sight of all those feathers edged out my fear. She said to me, “I can tell you really love animals.”

I had never much thought about it before then, but in the moment she said it I realized it was true. And most especially I love birds.

But often over the years I have found that many others don’t really understand why I specifically love birds – they don’t seem to get how wonder-filled I am at even the most casual sight of one, wheeling effortlessly above me in the sky.

Some people I meet don’t even seem to really see birds as animals. It’s almost like when they say “pets” or “animals”, they automatically think of dogs or cats, and nothing else. In fact, when I tell people that I have a pet bird, I often either get a blank stare, or I am treated to what I call the “horrible bird story”, which usually begins when the person says, “You know, my mother/uncle/sister/I had a bird once….”

I also often struggle to find stories, books or movies about birds which don’t feature gory bird stories or stomach-turning details about bird abuse or exploitation. I can’t read things like that, period.

So imagine how delighted I was recently to discover a charmingly wonderful book called “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill“.

The author, Mark Bittner, first became familiar with the parrots while serving as a caretaker to a cottage on famous Telegraph Hill near San Francisco, CA. The wild parrots – most survivors of the bird smuggling trade – had banded together and were roaming around a small area near the Hill foraging for food. (As a side note, I spent the mid- and late-90’s living right near San Francisco and I can’t believe I never heard of these parrots until last month!)

In an utterly spontaneous way, Mark became the first human to achieve a level of trust with the wild parrot band – so much so that they would often feed from his hand, and let him care for them when they became ill. After six years living side by side with the parrot band and becoming friendly with many individual parrots (without ever once trying to capture or tame any bird – and this is integral to the story!) Mark’s situation changed and he was inspired to write a book about his experiences.

That book became “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”.

The wild parrots – photo courtesy of Mark Bittner 

Suffice it to say that I was RIVETED for all 277 pages, and totally bummed when it ended.

Mark’s now-wife, Judy Irving, made a documentary film by the same name that I just ordered on Netflix. (Interestingly, filming the parrots was also how Mark and Judy met and fell in love!)

This book is amazing. I could write a book ABOUT this book, but I will keep my thoughts to myself from here in hopes you will take my word for it and read the book (and watch the film) for yourself.

But I will share one thing – probably my favorite realization from the whole book. It is this – every creature on the planet gets lonely sometimes. Every creature feels scared. Every creature fears death. And every creature longs for life – and others to share life with.

We truly are not alone in this world.

As Judy Irving says, “There is a big world out there and we are only one species. So what I like about the film – people who have seen the film – is that they get that. And they start looking around. Maybe they’re not so lonely anymore. Maybe they’re not so depressed. Because they realize they share the world with all these fabulous species and all they have to do is start looking around.”

The wild parrots in action.

4 thoughts on “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

  1. Nice. Thank you.

    1. Wow! Thank you for reading, Mark. I am honored. You and Judy inspire me so much. 🙂

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