Wild parrots on Telegraph Hill overlook San Francisco.
Wild parrots on Telegraph Hill overlook San Francisco. Mark Bittner
Mark Bittner, a once homeless aspiring musician, cares for the birds and interceded when the owner of the trees wanted to cut them down. He's now the subject of a documentary.
Mark Bittner, a once homeless aspiring musician, cares for the birds and interceded when the owner of the trees wanted to cut them down. He's now the subject of a documentary. Daniela Cossali
Bittner says the parrots were originally shipped to San Francisco as potential pets but either escaped or were released.
Bittner says the parrots were originally shipped to San Francisco as potential pets but either escaped or were released. Mark Bittner
Since becoming the subject of a book and documentary, the wild parrots have become a popular tourist attraction in San Francisco.
Since becoming the subject of a book and documentary, the wild parrots have become a popular tourist attraction in San Francisco. Mark Bittner
Famous wild parrots in San Francisco face the possibility of losing their favorite perch in two aging and diseased cypress trees.
The trees sit on private property, so normally they would be the responsibility of the owner. But because these Monterey cypresses are home to wild parrots — one of the city's newest tourist attractions — San Francisco officials are planning to take the unusual step of insuring the trees.
As the subject of a best-selling book by Mark Bittner and now of a documentary by Judy Irving, the parrots are well-known. Irving's film focuses on Bittner, a formerly homeless, aspiring musician. He found his calling when he adopted and began caring for a flock of wild parrots. In one of the opening scenes, Bittner feeds the birds as he talks to a group of tourists.
"They were originally wild birds that were caught down in the wild, shipped up here to be sold as pets. They were pets and then they were either, you know, deliberately released or escaped," he says. "But all these others you're seeing were born here in the city. They are actually wild, wild birds."
Irving says meeting Bittner reminded her of her childhood, when her grandfather taught her to feed birds.
"Mark has time to feed the birds, take care of sick birds inside the house, keep a detailed flock diary, all with no visible means of support, no money but all the time in the world," Irving says.
But not everyone feels so protective of the parrots. There has been a long fight over the fate of the birds' favorite perches — two Monterey cypresses on Telegraph Hill.
The owner of the trees said that they were old, rotten, and a liability since they could fall and injure someone. He says he has nothing against the parrots but that the trees ought to come down. When the owner hired a crew to perform that task two years ago, Bittner threw himself in front of the chainsaws.
Since then, the city has intervened, agreeing to insure the old trees. The Northeast San Francisco Conservancy, a non-profit group, has agreed to pay for pruning in hopes of extending the trees' lives. And the owner has agreed to plant six new trees in their place.
"I got 1,600 e-mails from people in San Francisco and around the world about the parrots, and I think it really is a unique feature that people come to see in San Francisco," says Bevan Dufty, a San Francisco County supervisor.
Dufty says he hopes the deal will be a model to other cities to find creative ways to preserve the natural environment. The county supervisors are expected to approve the deal in March.