The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Autumn 2005 Documentary series
Monday, December 5, 2005 at 7:00pm
Rated NR ·
Winner of several audience awards at international festivals, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill draws from the book of the same name for an insightful look at a flock of wild parrots and the man who has become their caretaker.
As a young man, Mark Bittner came to San Francisco with the hope of becoming a poet/singer/songwriter. When that dream failed, the aging hippie found himself drifting aimlessly through life, having only worked menial jobs and living on the streets or in rent-free accommodation. When we meet Bittner, he is squatting (with the landlords’ approval) in a century-old cottage in the community of Telegraph Hill. For some time, he has been observing an unusual flock of red and green parrots. How these wild South American parrots have ended up so far from home and formed their flock is the basis of many an urban legend.
Bittner throws himself into learning everything he can about these cherry headed conures, observing their social behaviour and individual tendencies. Through these beautiful and fascinating animals he finds purpose and meaning in his life, taking in sick birds, tending to them and setting them free. Although he never attempts to domesticate the birds, a few who are either sick or unable to fly become his companions at home. One of these birds, a sick parrot named Tupelo, eventually dies, and Bittner’s beautiful elegy for the bird is painfully sincere and moving. We also meet Connor, a lone blue-crowned conure, who has lost his mate and become an outsider living on the periphery of the flock – a poignant parallel to Bittner’s life.
When the landlords decide to renovate the property, Bittner again finds himself homeless. Without the St. Francis of Telegraph Hill (as one tourist aptly named him) the birds’ future is in limbo. The many hawks in the area become an increasing threat and Bittner worries that the municipal government will disturb the parrots’ habitat. Director Judy Irving gives us a moving portrait of a wild flock of birds and a unique and fascinating man. The surprise ending will leave audiences soaring.