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What are the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill?

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill are a famous flock of naturalized parrots, primarily Red-masked Parakeets (Aratinga erythrogenys), that reside in San Francisco. These birds are not native to the area but have established a thriving community, becoming a beloved local attraction and the subject of a documentary film.

How did the parrots end up on Telegraph Hill?

It's believed that the parrots of Telegraph Hill are descendants of escaped or released pets. Over time, these birds have adapted to the urban environment of San Francisco, finding food and nesting sites that have allowed them to survive and reproduce, thus creating the feral flock known today.

Are the parrots protected by any conservation efforts?

While the parrots are not an endangered species, they are protected under California state law, which prohibits trapping and selling wild parrots. Local conservation efforts focus on preserving the birds' habitat and educating the public about the importance of not feeding wildlife, which can disrupt their natural behaviors.

What is the diet of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill?

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill have adapted to a varied diet that includes fruits, seeds, and blossoms from local trees and plants. They are also known to visit backyard bird feeders, although experts discourage feeding them to prevent dependency and nutritional imbalances.

Can visitors interact with the parrots?

Visitors can observe the parrots in their natural habitat, but interaction should be limited to observation from a distance. It's important to respect the birds' space and avoid attempts to feed or touch them, as human interaction can be stressful for wildlife and may lead to negative consequences for their health and behavior.

What impact do the parrots have on the local ecosystem?

As non-native species, the parrots could potentially impact the local ecosystem by competing with native birds for resources. However, there is no significant evidence suggesting that the parrots have had a detrimental effect on native species or the environment in San Francisco. Their presence is monitored by wildlife experts to ensure ecological balance is maintained.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

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

Discussion Comments

By bluedolphin — On Apr 21, 2014

@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.

By fBoyle — On Apr 21, 2014

@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.

By burcinc — On Apr 21, 2014

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.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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