In a celebration of urban wildness, THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL
follows formerly homeless street musician Mark Bittner into San Francisco’s avian subculture, where a remarkable flock of wild green-and-red parrots live and work to survive. Dubbed the “Bohemian St. Francis,” Bittner falls in with the flock as he searches for his path through life, unaware that the wild parrots will do more for him than eat his sunflower seeds. Airing on KUED-Channel 7 Tuesday, May 29, at 8 p.m.,
this true story reveals moving relationships between Bittner and the birds and explores passionate dynamics among the parrots, often linking their antics to human behavior. Although he is no scientist, Bittner becomes something of an avian expert as he consults local birders and as he feeds, names, studies and protects the cherry-headed conures — escaped pets that have begun to breed in the wilds of the city. "They were originally caught down in the wild, shipped up here to be sold as pets, they were pets, and then they were either deliberately released or they escaped. But all these others that you’re seeing here were born here in the city," Bittner explains. "Mingus, for example,” Bittner adds, “is a really strange bird. Every single bird I’ve ever had in the house is always looking for the means to escape. Mingus is just the opposite. He’s a bird that I can’t keep out." Parrot “stars” include Connor, the lonely blue-crowned conure, ostracized by the cherry-heads; Picasso and Sophie, an affectionate couple who love to cuddle; Pushkin, a single father who raises three babies on his own; and Mingus, a cherry-headed conure who tries to join the flock, but, hobbled by a crippled leg, comes to live with Mark Bittner in his house, instead. The film culminates with Bittner’s race to save the parrots when his home (and that of some of the parrots) is threatened. Meanwhile, his own quest for survival and companionship uncannily parallels that of his birds. In the film’s climactic ending, Bittner does find the meaning he sought—though no one could have predicted the surprising form in which it comes. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill airs on KUED-Channel 7 Tuesday, May 29, at 8 p.m.
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