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Celebrity Parrots to Get Home Insurance

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Celebrity Parrots to Get Home Insurance

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Celebrity Parrots to Get Home Insurance

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's a story about some beloved birds in San Francisco.

These are the famous wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. And for the last couple of years, the parrots' perch has been in peril. San Francisco officials have finally struck a deal, though, that should save the birds and their favorite trees for a very long time. Here's NPR's Richard Gonzales.

RICHARD GONZALES: I'm standing on the Greenwich steps. It's a long staircase on Telegraph Hill just below one of San Francisco's landmarks, Coit Tower. There's a breathtaking view of the San Francisco Bay. And nearby, there are two aging cypress trees. Now, these trees are a favorite roosting place for a flock of wild parrots.

(Soundbite of parrots)

GONZALES: Since the parrots are wild, that means they won't necessarily keep an appointment to meet. But you can learn all about them in this film, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill."

(Soundbite of film, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill")

Mr. MARK BITTNER (Musician): (Singing) Well, I got me a roof, and I got me some clothes, and I eat real good, man, I overdose -

GONZALES: The documentary features a wannabe musician and free spirit, Mark Bittner, who found his calling by adopting and caring for a flock of wild parrots, which he tries to explain to a slightly bemused passerby.

Mr. BITTNER: 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. But all these others that you're seeing here were born here in the city. They're actually wild, wild birds.

GONZALES: In the documentary, filmmaker Judy Irving says meeting Bittner took her back to her childhood, when her grandfather taught her to feed birds.

Ms. JUDY IRVING (Director, "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill"): Mark has trying to feed the birds, take care of sick birds inside the house and keep a detailed flock diary, all with no visible means of support. No money, but all the time in the world. How does he get away with that?

GONZALES: But far be it for me to tell you how the story unfolds. Suffice it to say that Judy Irving's film and Mark Bittner's best-selling book, both entitled "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," made these birds world famous. And like the cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge, they're becoming part of the city's lore, says Bittner.

Mr. BITTNER: Well, I used to say that they were like, you know, typical San Franciscans, they were colorful eccentrics that came from somewhere else.

GONZALES: But not everyone feels so protective of the birds. The owner of those two Monterey Cypresses on Telegraph Hill, the parrots' resting place, had been threatening to chop them down. Nothing against the parrots, he said, but the trees were old, rotten, and a liability and ought to come down. Today, Bittner recalls how he threw himself in front of the chainsaws two years ago.

Mr. BITTNER: The trees have been in negotiation ever since. The city took it over and they came up with a deal.

Mr. GONZALES: And here's the deal. A non-profit group will pay for pruning the trees in hopes of extending their lives and the city will indemnify the owner in case the trees fall on someone or something. San Francisco County supervisor Bevin Dufty helped craft the deal.

Mr. BEVIN DUFTY (Supervisor, San Francisco County): 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, wonderful feature that people come to see in San Francisco.

(Soundbite of parrots)

GONZALES: It's a big victory for the parrots and the chance for San Francisco to show the rest of the country how it defines creative ways to preserve the natural environment. The county supervisors are expected to approve the deal in March, keeping the trees as a safe perch for the wild parrots.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

INSKEEP: I'm looking at the picture of these parrots' green and red brilliant colors, as well as the view that they enjoy. You can see it at npr.org.

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