Film — Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (G)

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (G)

by Amy Diaz

An aging hippie revels in the study of a flock of brilliant green parrots in San Francisco in Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Mark Bittner, the long-haired hippie in question, seems like a remnant of an earlier San Francisco, the one of the 1960s when it attracted people with an assortment of outlooks and dreams. Bittner’s dream — to become a working musician — didn’t come true but he stayed in the area for decades, often times sleeping on the street and working sporadically. He settled, a few years before we catch up with him, in a small cottage on Telegraph Hill where, inspired by assorted nature and philosophy readings, he begins bird watching. The colorful parrots, green with red or blue heads, that have made a home in the area catch his eye and he quickly becomes the foremost expert on their flock. He watches them, records their goings-on, feeds them occasionally and tends to them when they are sick or injured. He gives them names, like the lone-blue-headed parrot he calls Connor or the small red-headed female he calls Sophie, and attributes personality traits to them. He comes to love them so much that it is heartbreaking for him and us when we learn he must leave the area because the house he’s been squatting in is about to undergo renovation.

Despite Bittner’s attachment to the birds, neither he nor the movie ever turns them into cartoons. They are wild and, he argues, they are now as native to San Francisco as they once were to South America (how the birds wound up in San Francisco is a matter of debate). Bittner accepts the reality of the disease, hawks and other injury that will one day take each bird’s life. This approach to nature, accepting it for what it is without trying to sanitize it, gives the movie its charm. We care about these characters — human and bird — because no cutesy artifice gets in the way of seeing them for what they are.

For rural, urban and suburban dwellers alike, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a rare approach to nature that shows all its wonder but doesn’t idealize it. Even if dodging pigeons in your car is the closest you’ve ever come to bird-watching, this movie brings out the hidden ornithologist in all of us.

- Amy Diaz

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