No Treats for Wild Parakeets in San Francisco
REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
In San Francisco, they're known as the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. In fact, the birds are actually wild parakeets. But they're colorful like parrots, and people come from all over to see them.
But as of today, feeding the parakeets is a crime.
NPR's Richard Gonzales tells us why.
(Soundbite of parakeets chirping)
RICHARD GONZALES: In San Francisco, it's hard to find someone who loves the birds more than Mark Bittner. The one-time homeless musician fed them and became famous with them in a documentary called "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."
Mr. MARK BITTNER: (Singing) Well, I got me a roof and I got me some clothes. And I eat real good, men I overdose.
GONZALES: Bittner and the birds were a hit with moviegoers around the world. But then a year ago, Bittner stopped feeding the parakeets. He worried that his past efforts had inspired too many copycat feeders who might be doing the birds more harm than good.
Mr. BITTNER: My main concern has always been that they remain wild and free. You know, the idea of them being in cages or being grabbed by people to be sold frightens me.
GONZALES: So yesterday, when San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted 10 to one to outlaw public feeding of the parakeets, Bittner was happy and supportive.
Mr. BITTNER: I can't let go of my concern for their well-being. And we have mocked up nature so much. I think we just need to leave it alone. I just want them to be free birds.
GONZALES: Bittner's support of the feeding ban has drawn strong reactions among bird lovers. Some say he's gotten to the point where he thinks he owns the parakeets and that no one else has a right to get close to them.
In San Francisco's Ferry Park, where the birds drop by daily for handouts, Julie Zhou(ph) is a regular.
Ms. JULIE ZHOU: Right in front of us is the little cluster of four tall papa trees(ph). And these are actually the favorite resting spots of the flock. And then next to it is a large eucalyptus tree and the parrots really like to perch in that.
GONZALES: Julie says she and other bird feeders were inspired by Bittner. Now, Julie says, she is disappointed in him and at the notion that if she continues to feed the birds, she's a lawbreaker.
Ms. ZHOU: Well, we really don't want to see any harm come to any wildlife in the city. We just feel that this ban is a bit arbitrary, you know, difficult to enforce. We would hate to see small children feeding the parrots and get ticketed by police officers or animal control.
It just seems to not send a very good message about what San Francisco is really about. You know, this is a very open and caring city and that I think is what makes me the saddest.
GONZALES: The new law establishes a one-hundred-dollar fine for feeding the wild birds on public property. Backyard feeding is still allowed. San Francisco Board of Supervisor president Aaron Peskin sponsored the measure.
Mr. AARON PESKIN (President, San Francisco Board of Supervisor): As we are taught in our national parks, when we go to Yosemite, not to feed the bears, we have passed a law that says that one should not feed these birds.
GONZALES: Still, Peskin says the city is not out to collect fines, so much as to educate San Franciscans about their wild neighbors.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.