Monday, June 03, 2013

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill:  A Love Story...with Wings, Mark Bittner.  New York:  Harmony Books/ Crown Publishing Group, 2007.  e-book, 263 pps.

I am allergic to birds, or to their feathers or their dander or something.  I've been tested.  It is because of this allergy, or actually the clear symptoms of the allergy, that excused me from helping someone to clean the cage of her lovebirds in a house that I used to work at.  It is because of the allergy that I do not have birds in my home.  So instead, I feed the birds in my yard.  

I did not become a birder because of my allergy to the birds.  I became a birder because I was learning how to live without getting blasted.  Two of my co-workers were birders and they pointed out various birds at their feeder.  They took me along to a bird sanctuary and I was hooked.  The old guy upstairs had a dog.  That dog was my dog's best friend.  Because of him and his dog and my dog, I became an unwilling hiker, day-packer and eventual back-packer, a cross-country skier and a birder.  My unwillingness turned into a passion that remains to this day, several decades later.  My life list had over one hundred species on it when I abandoned it for the pleasure of studying the birds that I spotted.

In the intervening years, I became a traveler and a rambler.  I traveled across country and like the song, I left a piece of my heart in San Francisco in return for retrieving a piece of my scattered soul.  I rambled through many woods, seeking out the quiet places with my various dogs and continue to find much pleasure in nature's healing solitude to this day.  I and the current happy dog can be found walking in various wooded places at least twice a week.  I have learned to identify some birds by their song, flight pattern, and behavior.  The dog has learned to recognize these words: stay back, wait, quiet, squirrel, moo-cow, horsie, frog, pretty, spirit [for dead things], leave it [for dead things and potentially dangerous living things] and birdieThe words make her a better companion on my rambles.  She is a dog that can be called off a deer, a woods dog in her own right.

Against this backdrop came the book Wild Parrots of Telegraph HillMark Bittner was a guy who was down on his luck.  It was a kinder San Francisco that allowed him and other homeless folk to camp out on the rooftop of a building with the knowledge of the tenants and the manager after he was evicted from a friend's VW because someone complained.  Bittner lucked out.  He found free rent in exchange for care-taking duties.  Along with the free rent [and some informal jobs], Bittner found a troop of feral parrots [or conures].  They inserted themselves into his life.  In return for some seeds and feedings up to four times a day, Bittner was given a chance to change his world.

sapphoq reviews says:  If you like parrots or birding or San Francisco, you are sure to love Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.  This is not a feel-good tale.  Rather, the book is a gritty story with a happy ending.  One thing for sure, it is more than just my bird allergy now that has decided me not to ever "own" a conure in a cage.  Mark Bittner took the time to educate me about the abject cruelity inherent in the wild bird trade which is responsible for the two feral flocks of conures which live in San Francisco.  Highly recommended.


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