What are the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill have been a San Francisco icon ever since the 2005 film of the same name was released. Natives of the city had been familiar with the parrots since the 1990s, when they first began to settle and breed in the city in large numbers. Visitors to the city often seek out the flock of feral parrots during their visits, because the ever growing flock of tropical birds is a unique and startling sight in the urban environs of Northern California.

Wild parrots of Telegraph Hill began to settle in the area of San Francisco, California during the 1990s.
Wild parrots of Telegraph Hill began to settle in the area of San Francisco, California during the 1990s.

The majority of the birds grouped into the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill are red masked parakeets, also called Cherry Headed Conures. The birds came from escaped and deliberately released pets in the 1990s, and they apparently quickly found an ecological niche. The flock started out with a single breeding pair, and by 2005, there were over 200 birds. The birds should not be confused with a second flock of feral parrots in San Francisco which lives around Potrero Hill. These birds are canary winged parakeets, and they are not usually found in the Telegraph Hill area.

Red masked parakeets make up the majority of the birds grouped into the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.
Red masked parakeets make up the majority of the birds grouped into the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Telegraph Hill is a region in the Northeastern part of San Francisco, capped by Coit Tower, which is a distinctive landmark on the San Francisco skyline. The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill probably favor the region because its extensive gardens, which tumble down the hill amidst a winding maze of streets and walking paths. The lush gardens of the area provide an abundance of food for the parrots, along with nesting areas.

A man named Mark Bittner is closely associated with the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill, after publishing a book about the parrots in 2004. In 2005, the film was made, catapulting Bittner and the parrots into popularity and the public eye. As awareness of the parrots became more widespread, it also created controversy. Some conservationists felt that the flock should be removed, if possible, since the parrots were non-native species, potentially threatening the well being of native birds. Other San Franciscans fought to keep the parrots intact, arguing that they were an important part of the city's culture and history.

Ultimately, the parrot preservationists prevailed, and the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill can be seen both in their home territory and all over the city as they quest for food. In 2007, a feeding ban was published, outlawing feeding of the parrots in public spaces. The ban was intended to address concerns that the parrots could be captured if they are tamed by people who feed them. Ornithologists were also concerned that the birds would lose independence if they were fed too much, pointing out that animals can become aggressive when they are fed frequently. While the ban was opposed by many people, others believe that it will ultimately benefit the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill by keeping them free and feral.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@fBoyle-- The film is really a documentary but it showcases the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill beautifully. It's very simple and straightforward, but also very touching. One of the best documentaries about nature in my opinion. I have never been to San Francisco, but after seeing the documentary, I feel like I have been to Telegraph Hill.


@burcinc-- The film "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is actually about the friendship between Mark Bittner and the parrots. I saw the film and Mark Bittner is very close to these birds, he feeds them and even knows them by name.

So I think that these parrots have already been domesticated to some extent due to people's interest in them. And they're obviously doing well.


I don't know why experts are so concerned over the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill. I realize that they are not a local species, nor a common species in the US in general. But why ban people from watching them or feeding them?

I mean people feed pigeons in many urban areas and sometimes it's a touristic attraction as well. When there are such beautiful parrots, people will naturally want to observe them and get close to them. As long as they don't captivate or harm the parrots, I don't think that this is a problem. I'm sure that many tourists go to Telegraph Hill just for the parrots.

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