Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Posted on March 23, 2005 at 6:12 pm

Telegraph Hill, overlooking the North Beach section of San Francisco, is a place where all kinds of creatures from all kinds of places can feel welcome. One of them is onetime musician Mark Bittner, a man with “no visible means of support” who is himself the support for some of the neighborhood’s most colorful residents, a flock of bright green wild parrots.

Bittner knows and loves each one of them. He is in one respect a sort of St. Francis of Telegraph Hill, carting huge bags of birdseed home on the bus to feed to them and taking the sick ones into his home to nurse them. But he is also their Jane Goodall, possibly the only person in history to study a group of parrots so intently over so long a period.

Bittner does not have a job, at least not one that pays him anything. He lives rent-free in a crumbling cottage and gets free pastries from a local cafe. The birds are his full-time job. He studies them, reads up on them, consults the bird specialist at the local zoo, and develops his own treatments, even grooming one parrot when he no longer has a mate to do it for him.

Through Bittner, even the least animal-friendly viewer will begin to fall in love with these brave and beautiful birds. His passion, dedication, and understanding are first impressive, then touching, then transcendent as he begins to talk about the death of a beloved parrot named Tupelo and tells a story from a zen master about the way we are all connected. The movie’s conclusion is a moment of breathtaking perfection — the sweetest connection of all.

Parents should know that the movie has some very sad moments including the death of some of the birds and a sad parting.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Bittner decided what was important to him and the steps he took to help him deal with change and loss in his life.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Winged Migration.”

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