Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Move Over, Birdman of Alcatraz! Meet Mark Bittner, The Passionate Parrotman of Telegraph Hill

“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” is a fascinating documentary about a flock of approximately 45 wild parrots that live and breed in the North Beach/Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco. It’s an award-winning film directed by well-known documentarian Judy Irving. For a long time, the movie made its way around the country as an underground sensation, popular with animal lovers, naturalists and people from all walks of life. Folks just seem to be drawn to this amazing story of human beings and animals living together and changing each other’s lives forever. The film is now available on DVD, and is doing quite well in both the rental as well as sales markets.

Every day around this time of year, I can see these wonderful birds through my office window. There is a tree directly across the street where they squawk and eat juniper berries. I love watching them for hours at a time and I’m always quite depressed when they fly off. They’re like neighbors – fun to look at and a little noisy every now and then.

The central character in the film is Mark Bittner, a 40-something free spirit who came to San Francisco from Vancouver, Washington in 1972 in hopes of becoming a successful singer and musician. Things didn’t pan out in SF for Mark the way he had hoped they would, and soon he found himself homeless and living on the streets of North Beach. After squatting in a few places and living on peoples’ roofs, he eventually was allowed to live rent-free in a cottage below the house of a yuppie couple who lived near the parrots of Telegraph Hill. He began to feed the birds several times a day. He learned who the different parrots were and gave them names. Bittner eventually had to move out of the place when the owners of the property decided to renovate it into a high-priced rental property. Suddenly, Mark found himself homeless again and separated from his family of wild parrots.

I recently got an opportunity to meet with Mark Bittner and ask him about the film, his book that preceded the movie, and his life since. We met in North Beach last week and chatted for almost an hour. The man is so cool and just a great guy. I know this sounds cliché, but I feel as though I’ve known him forever. I got a big brother vibe from the guy right off. The movie and his book have completely changed his life in so many ways. The interview will be appearing on my blog sometime this week in a condensed form, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you live in this city, especially in the areas of Telegraph Hill, North Beach, the Marina or Pacific Heights, keep your eyes peeled for these parrots. Their unique personalities are just as colorful as their plumage and markings. They are truly a special part of San Francisco and its culture. We’re an animal-loving city, and one can’t help but fall in love with these birds once you’ve seen them playing, eating, breeding and just being.

To learn more about Mark Bittner and “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”, visit his web site at: www.wildparrotsbook.com.

To be continued……

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