Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wild Parrots--A San Francisco Album, and Film Review

One day while we were climbing up to Coit Tower, a monument to firefighters built in 1933, I was thrilled to see San Francisco's wild parrots.

Soon after my pet cockatiel, Cookie, passed away, I saw the documentary film "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill".  Although I was predisposed to be moved by this film, I enjoyed it on its own terms as an effective documentary.  Judy Irving directed this story of Mark Bittner, an unemployed and virtually homeless musician, who for several years was allowed to occupy the guest house of a generous couple near Telegraph Hill.  One day he spotted a number of parrots, which seemed to be surviving on their own. With great patience and stealth, he held food out to the birds until they trusted him, and ate from his hands. 

Soon, he was their unofficial caretaker.  His care for these birds gained him international fame, and an unexpected life-change after making the documentary.  The film nicely balances the nature of these fascinating birds with a personal human story of a man at a crossroads, and how he and these creatures helped each other in surprising ways.  Its tone is light throughout, and disarming and moving.  The birds provide humor and melancholy, and  Bittner and Irving build a sly conversation with a giddy payoff.  The warm-hearted surprise ending is one of the many reasons I loved this film.

Our climb to Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill was challenging and thrilling.  We were breathless from the effort but more from the view...  The building is a simple cylinder, the inside first floor completely done in murals funded by a New Deal federal employment program for artists.

We got some beautiful photographs through the windows of the lookout tower.  We met many tourists from around the world; I was able to use my Italian to speak to a young couple from Rome, who, by the time we were through, had invited us to their home for dinner when we visited.

After the ride down the elevator, as we prepared for the bus ride back down the hill, I heard the sound...the unmistakable sound of the parrot flock nearby.  I looked up into a large tree to see a couple of the Cherry-Headed Conures snuggling together. Soon a loud noise startled the flock, sending them circling continuously overhead. 

I was awe-struck, and started to cry at that moment.  These birds, unusual, and not native to this nontropical area, symbolized the diversity that was embraced in San Francisco. In some unexplainable way, they seemed to sense my love for them, and waited for me there so I could catch a glimpse of them.


  1. I hope you know you've been tagged in the most epic of short stories :D

  2. Absolutely beautiful. I can't wait to go to San Francisco, reading about it here has just been incredible. That view! Spectacular!

  3. beautiful story Tom. I, too, believe those animals sensed your love for them and wanted you to see them. I have a friend who relocated to San Francisco from Missouri, and she absolutely loves it there. She cannot say enough great things about the city. She posts beautiful pictures, too. I hope that you and Mark one day realize your dream to live there, too. I believe you will :)

  4. Walter...I think you would enjoy this Documentary... apart from its subject matter, it's a pretty decent piece of filmmaking.
    Cheryl, I am so glad that you are becoming a regular reader here too. San Francisco has a strong pull on my affections, and I hope to be a more regular visitor, if not an actual resident some day!