The Enchanting Tale of San Francisco’s Wild Parrots on Telegraph Hill
Nestled within the bustling streets of San Francisco, an unexpected surprise awaits those who look to the skies – a vibrant and raucous flock of wild parrots. These feathered residents have become a beloved part of the city’s landscape, captivating the hearts of locals and visitors alike. Let’s dive into the intriguing story behind the presence of these colorful creatures, from their origins to their habits, and uncover some delightful fun facts along the way.
Why a Flock of Wild Parrots in San Francisco?
Imagine walking down the charming streets of San Francisco and suddenly being greeted by a flurry of vibrant plumage and exuberant calls. The sight of wild parrots soaring above the cityscape is both enchanting and puzzling. How did these tropical birds find their way to a city known for its foggy shores and iconic Golden Gate Bridge?
The Origin Story: How Did They Get Here?
The tale begins with the exotic pet trade that once flourished in the United States. These captivating birds were imported from various corners of the world to satisfy the demand for rare and unique pets. The U.S. held the title of the world’s largest bird importer until the trade of wild exotic birds was banned in 1992. Among the species brought in were the cherry-headed conures, the stars of San Francisco’s parrot spectacle.
Escaped and Released: The Birth of the Wild Flock
The wild parrot population in San Francisco primarily consists of cherry-headed conures. These colorful birds escaped or were intentionally released into the city. The conures, known for their vivid green feathers and distinctive red heads, were originally imported from Ecuador and northern Peru. Not everyone was prepared for the demands of caring for these energetic birds, leading some pet owners to set them free. Over time, these escapees formed a tight-knit community, establishing their own unique dialect of calls and responses.
A Symphony of Facts: 17 Intriguing fun facts about the Wild Parrots in San Francisco
- Language Learners: While not accomplished mimics of human speech, these conures have developed their own intricate communication system.
- Extensive Territory: The flock’s range spans from the Ferry Building southward to Brisbane and Sunnyvale, making it a citywide phenomenon.
- Historical Hill: Telegraph Hill has a long history of attracting parrots; they have been spotted there since 1911.
- Diverse Heritage: The flock originally consisted of cherry-headed conures, but a mitered conure introduced diversity through crossbreeding.
- Charming Headgear: Cherry-headed conures sport a unique red helmet pattern on their heads, distinguishing them from their mitered cousins.
- Ancient Residents: Wild parrots have called Telegraph Hill home since 1911, with the cherry-headed conures becoming dominant in the 1990s.
- Dietary Preferences: These conures have diverse palates, enjoying fruits, vegetables, berries, flowers, and even blossoms as part of their diet.
- Official Representatives: The wild parrots recently earned the title of San Francisco’s official animal, winning over sea lions by a narrow margin.
- Longevity: Each parrot can live for over 35 years, creating generations of these captivating birds.
- Noisy Neighbors: The parrots’ lively calls contribute to the symphony of city sounds, and they have their own distinct dialect.
- Habitat Guardians: These parrots utilize pre-existing tree holes for shelter, avoiding the predatory hawks that inhabit the area.
- Mysterious Threat: While some parrots have shown neurological damage, it’s not a threat to the entire flock; the source is attributed to a common rat poison.
- Chronicle of Fame: Mark Bittner’s book and documentary, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” brought these avian stars into the limelight.
- Local Hotspots: Catching a glimpse of these parrots is an adventure – popular locations include Coit Tower, Embarcadero Park, and more. More information on how to spot them is listed below.
- Loud and Proud: The conures’ calls, known for being loud and distinct, make them a part of the city’s audible character.
- So popular they are on Yelp: Lots of photos and reviews with hints to find them on Yelp!
- Diverse Heritage: The parrots’ ancestors originated from the arid habitats of South America, facing habitat destruction and the pet trade.
The Thriving Legacy of San Francisco’s Parrots
As they navigate the urban landscape with their colorful plumage and distinctive calls, the wild parrots of San Francisco have become iconic symbols of the city’s diversity and resilience. From their unexpected arrival to their remarkable ability to adapt and flourish, these birds have captured the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whether you encounter them on Telegraph Hill or hear their calls echoing across the city, remember the fascinating journey that brought these avian companions to the city by the bay.
Stars of Screen and Print
The parrots are featured in the 2005 documentary film “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” and Mark Bittner’s 2004 book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story . . . with Wings
Excerpt from the introduction to the book: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the inspiring story of how one man found his life’s work and true love among a gang of wild parrots roosting in one of America’s most picturesque urban settings. Mark Bittner was down on his luck. He’d gone to San Francisco at the age of twenty-one to take a stab at a music career, but he hadn’t had much success. After many years as an odd-jobber in the area, he accepted work as a housekeeper for an elderly woman. The gig came with a rent-free studio apartment on the city’s famed Telegraph Hill, which had somehow become home to a flock of brilliantly colored wild parrots.
In this unforgettable story, Bittner recounts how he became fascinated by the birds and made up his mind to get to know them and gain their trust. He succeeds to such a degree that he becomes the local wild parrot expert and a tourist attraction. People can’t help gawking at the man who, during daily feedings, stands with parrots perched along both arms and atop his head. When a documentary filmmaker comes along to capture the phenomenon on film, the story takes a surprising turn, and Bittner’s life truly takes flight.
Trailer for the Documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
How to Locate the Wild Parrots in San Francisco
If you’re a bird enthusiast or just love unique wildlife experiences, spotting San Francisco’s wild parrots is a must-do activity. These colorful and lively birds have made a home in various parts of the city, and with a little guidance, you can increase your chances of catching a glimpse of them. Here’s your ultimate guide on how to locate the wild parrots of San Francisco.
Wild parrots are creatures of habit, and understanding their daily routines can significantly improve your chances of spotting them. Keep these timing tips in mind:
- Daytime Activity: Parrots are most active during the day, moving around in flocks. This means you’re more likely to spot them while they’re on the move rather than when they’re perched.
- Golden Hour: For the best chance of seeing parrots, plan to visit their hangouts about an hour before sunset or shortly after sunrise. During these times, they are often more visible and active.
San Francisco offers a few key spots where parrot sightings are more common. Explore these locations for a higher chance of encountering these vibrant birds:
- Coit Tower and Surroundings: Wander the paths around Coit Tower, especially an hour before sundown or shortly after sunrise. Ravens are often seen roosting, and where ravens are, parrots might not be far behind.
- Embarcadero Park: Locals have pointed out that there’s a popular parrot roost at sundown near the intersection of Clay & Davis near Sue Bierman Park. Time your visit just after the sun has set to increase your luck.
- Stairways on Telegraph Hill: This area, including spots like the Greenwich Street Stairs and the Filbert Street Steps, is known for parrot sightings. Take a leisurely stroll through these charming steps to spot these colorful birds.
- Upper Fort Mason and Justin Herman Plaza: Keep your eyes peeled while exploring these locations as well. Parrots have been spotted in the palm trees off of Justin Herman Plaza and around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area headquarters in Upper Fort Mason.
From approximately early October to early February, the flock soars as a cohesive entity. As February approaches, it slowly starts to disperse into smaller clusters, marking the onset of the breeding season. By late June or early July, females have settled onto their nests, coinciding with a phase when the flock traverses its territory in compact formations, consisting of merely two to ten members.
Patience and Perseverance
Remember, patience is key when trying to spot wild parrots. They might stay perched for only a few minutes before taking off, so be prepared to wait and keep your eyes on the trees. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see them right away; sometimes, the thrill is in the search.
Want to explore San Francisco with your family on a private tour that includes Telegraph Hill?
San Francisco Jeep Tours is the perfect family-friendly tour activity in San Francisco onboard their private tours. The city tour routes and entertaining tour guides cover lots of information on the “not to miss” attractions. Book a San Francisco Jeep City Tour, Sunset and City Lights San Francisco Jeep Tours, or the Full Day Combo City and Muir Woods tour to travel to many of the kid-friendly locations in and around San Francisco.
Check out the San Francisco Jeep Tours website for more information on exploring the City by the Bay.