Mariel's Reviews > The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story . . . with Wings

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner
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Mar 23, 11

Recommended to Mariel by: my mom
Recommended for: Bird Brian
Read in October, 2005

Bird Brian wished for me to read and review this book. I'd written one little one-liner on it. I can try and share my feelings about this one better than that. I respect Bird Brian and he's a total bird lover just like me.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a documentary, a book and also a website (I haven't kept up to date with it for several years, though). I like the documentary the best. It's a better way, I think, to know the story of nearly homeless man Mark Bittner and his wild parrot buddies without the kinda self-serving bird's eye view of his book (hah! Good one, Mar), like reading someone's diary as after the fact when time and memory has colored things in for perfect soap-box material. It was awesome how this man who lives on the fringes of society takes the painstaking time to build a relationship of trust, without asking of anything back. The downside of the book is that the kinda relentless politics of Bittner wore down on this reader like he was asking for something back. Kinda like being stuck in a conversation when you got the point right away, and that right away was hours ago. (I've never done that to anyone. Honest! You gotta believe me!) "I get it, you love Noam Chomsky!"
Bittner lives the way he does by choice. Sometimes he performs odd jobs for money. He has a sorta permanent residence that relies on others looking the other way. I liked the stories about his friends who would help him out. Like the bakery employees in San Francisco who would give him extra buns when he came in with a bit of change. I loved that it wasn't about charity but an exchange of trying, and help as mutual respect of each other's lifestyles (he always paid something). In Florida panhandling is illegal (I should've written "In the panhandle it is illegal to panhandle."). They can arrest you for giving to people who are asking you for money on the street. I'm terrified of being arrested. It breaks my heart to see it (my uncle is a homeless addict somewhere in Florida, by choice. A choice to leave his children. My cousins despise him, now). Whatever one's choice is, it is just too dangerous for me to feel anything less than terrified for people. (Another crazy Florida story: there are a group of women in a nearby town who were putting life insurance policies on homeless men and then murdering them. One woman got caught because she got greedy and did it again. Fucking scary!)
I agreed that he had the right to live as unfettered as he will. What I didn't want to read about over and over is the why. Get down to the living. The parrots are the living for a lot of it. The heart, the reason to smile and keep on getting up in the morning. That's why I loved the documentary better. It was living. I love hindsight too. Just hindsight more as feelings than explanation as "This is the only way".
There's a cool backstory about the documentary. Maybe this isn't still true... I'm not going to look it up in case it isn't. The filmmaker and Bittner fell in love (and were married). He still visited with the parrots but they were not the only company that he had anymore. I was sad that he didn't see them as often. I know it isn't like forgetting The Velveteen Rabbit or anything... But what if they missed him?
One of the things I really liked about the book is that it talks about different parrots than the ones seen in the film. The music loving Mingus is not in the book. He knows him later. I loved Mingus. Just watching the trailer about him made me all teary eyed. Bittner really knew these little bird guys. He knew everything about them. There were different relationships for some that made them the most special in his heart. Those special ones made it for me. Like those times when something about someone else really clicks for you. This book is a tribute to those clicked relationships.
I wish I remembered the name of his beloved blue-crown conure. It was one of my favorite stories about the different bird that is accepted into the flock of different birds. It was more than a little moving how Bittner reached out to him and helped. He must've especially related to feeling like you're a different sort of bird in a flock.
I loved how he knew which birds got "divorced" from each other in couples. How he'd listen to them call out to each other every night. It's how they feel safe knowing where everybody is, the calling out after dusk. Fact about birds: a lot of pet owners return conures because they are so loud.

I love Mingus.
Florida is looking really bad in this review. Sorry! We have a flock of wild birds made up of abandoned parrots, just as in this book. I forget where. My mom's friend told me about it once. I know there is a sun conure flock somewhere else in California (they are named so for appearing to be a sunset when flying as a flock). What really gets me? I'm bordering on soapbox territory here so I will tread carefully: those fucking college kids who put their pets in the dumpsters! I have heard horror stories of screaming cats locked up in pet carriers as they are crushed in the trucks. Oh my god. And I have known many people who have found caged parrots just sitting in their backyards (I know because they call me). What about those blue-crowned conures who forget how to be wild after being pets? And then some asshole abandons them?
I related to how he'd take care of them when they were sick. Like when he was afraid he'd accidentally roll over them when he had to sleep with them close. That has been a great fear of mine.
When the one bird was sick... I'm going to cry again thinking about it.
The relationship with the birds was so moving to me. Just a man and the birds connecting from no other motive than love and respect. That's so special. It's clicking with people who are special to you because you just care and it doesn't matter what you're going to get back. The birds came first! (One reason why I feel birds are so awesome is because they really pay attention to you. What you do will clearly affect the outcome in behavior. It's like society but in a way that makes sense to me. I have no idea what a lot of rules with people are. Birds? Yes.) (There are disturbing things about birds too. Like how boy cockatiels freeze out girl cockatiels if they sing. That's so wrong!)

This is Pierre. It is dangerous to let down your guard around Pierre. Her favorite thing to do is let you get relaxed before going in for the kill. One time (2004?) Pierre flew at me up a flight of stairs and bit me. I should also mention that the lights were out. Mean little fucker! My twin and I love to make up bloodthirsty songs sung from the perspective of Pierre. (Pierre is awesome. She totally does her own thing and doesn't take crap from anybody.) Pierre has flown away several times and has always come back.
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