Until the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill came out last year (and with it glowing enough reviews to get me to add it to my Netflx queue) I hadn’t ever heard of Mark Bittner and his personal mission to care for and feed the conures that are thriving around San Francisco’s North Beach area.
Susan and I watched it tonight and it’s a lovely, touching film. What first grabbed me were the similarities and differences between Bittner and his birds and Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell and his bears. While both insert themselves in with their respective animals (but in obviously far different ways), Treadwell’s motives become muddled whereas Bittner’s stay pretty pure. He strives throughout not only to maintain the flock as wild and ultimately not in need of human involvement, while also devoting himself to researching them. The sense I got from Bittner that he respected the natural order is one I failed to receive from Treadwell (or at least the Treadwell that was presented to me).
What touched me most about Parrots is that Bittner and these birds are pretty much outcasts who found each other. Whatever the urban legend you want to believe on how they came to call San Francisco home, the South American parrots are in point of fact a nonnative species and thus essentially ignored â€” even shunned â€” by conservationists. Bittner himself is an aging boomer musician who found himself drawn to the bay area where he landed somewhere between the beatniks and the hippies and never achieved his dreams of musical stardom. Basically with no means of support or income he has relied on assorted odd jobs and the kindness of friends and strangers to provide him with room and board.
Enter the parrots and the birth of a mutual appreciation and finally worldwide publicity as the “birdman of Telegraph Hill,” which led to this heartwarming and endearing documentary. Bittner found the birds and the birds helped him find himself. It doesn’t get much more gratifying than that.