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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story . . . with Wings Paperback – January 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this appealing, heartfelt account of one man's attempt to bond with wildlife, the author tells how he made friends with a flock of birds and in the process found meaning in his own life. In the early 1990s, Bittner, a 42-year-old who was still living like a "dharma bum," discovered that there were wild parrots in the trees and on the power lines near the house he was caretaking on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. Having nothing else to do, he decided to feed the birds on his fire escape and occupy his time by observing them. Soon they appeared every day, noisily demanding seeds, and for the next few years, he devoted most of his time to the wily and comical birds, which turned out to be cherry-headed and blue-crowned conures-escapees that originally had been caught in South America-and their progeny. Crowds gathered outside his house to see him with the parrots perched on his arms and head taking seeds from his hands, and he became famous as "the birdman of Telegraph Hill." Because he found that each bird had its own personality, he named them according to their individual characteristics, and in this charming record of their activities, they seem almost human. At a time when he lived like a hermit, the birds brought him joy and became his only friends. It's a bittersweet story-that is, until a documentary filmmaker shows up at his doorstep. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Bittner moved to San Francisco in search of himself. Like many in the early '70s, he tried many pathways--Taoism, the Beats--and lived hand to mouth working odd jobs. A period of homelessness came to an end when he was hired to help an elderly woman. With the job came an apartment, a garden, and parrots. Cherry-headed and blue-headed conures (small South American parrots) formed a wild flock of some 20 birds that lived in the neighborhood. As Bittner became more and more fascinated with the parrots, he began to feed them, and this growing intimacy led to naming the birds and following their relationships. The birds eventually learned to trust him, and his involvement with them led to minor fame in the neighborhood. When a documentary filmmaker arrived to do a story on the Birdman of Telegraph Hill, romance bloomed. This lovely book on finding one's way through interacting with parrots will be very popular among animal-loving readers. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (January 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140008170X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400081707
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on January 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
When people from the Bay Area hoof it up Telegraph Hill in SF, they nearly always make the climb from the North Beach access points. It's steep as all get out, but it's not even slightly as steep as the Greenwich steps, which is the way people choose to descend from the famous hill. Rarely on those steps do I meet someone walking up - and when I do, I always notice what great calves they have.
Anyway, there are old cottages from probably the earthquake era situated along these steps, and in one of them lived the author of this delightful book, Mark Bittner. Once a down and out self-described "dharma bum," Bittner was given free lodging in return for caretaking one of the mansions higher on the hillside. Jobless and bored, he began spending his days making friends with the small flock of wild parrots who have made that side of Telegraph Hill their home. In the process, he found meaning in his own life for probably the first time. Now a celebrity, Bittner says "from being a homeless nobody, now I have a home, a girlfriend, a book, and a's hilarious!" He's become a SF personality and an expert on his parrots, cherry-headed and blue-crowned conures-escapees from a long-ago South American shipment.
This book is as delightful as Bittner himself, more informative than anything else on parrots that I've ever read, and more readable than some novels. It's a sure winner.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Eric Williams on March 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This wonderful memoir of Bittner's life with the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Franciso is vivid, bittersweet and extraordinarily moving.

Like Jane Goodall, Bittner entered the animal world with little scientific knowledge; his interaction with the flock of brilliantly-colored conures was motivated by both his fascination with the birds and his own spiritual path, the latter of which had led him to a life of contemplation and solitude. And, like Goodall, Bittner began his life with the animals as an observor (though he soon became their caretaker as well).

Looking at the flock through Bittner's keenly compassionate eyes is a revelation. While the book is seeded through with the scientific and historical facts that Mark picked up through occasional research, it is primarily an autobiography interwoven with the biographies of individual birds and bird pairs. What emerges in Bittner's portraits of the birds are creatures with distinct personalities, emotions, and intellects.

Bittner's story is not sacchrine. He traces, with bracing and sometimes devastating simplicity, the sometimes difficult lives of his companions. He witnesses births and deaths, couplings and splits, and cruel illnesses. In turn, he notes the changing nature of his relationship with the flock, which is itself not untroubled. He questions the path he's taken in life and struggles with the limits of his compassion and dedication. His self-criticism is amazing, given the extraordinary lengths to which he went to protect and nurture the birds.

I want to mention in particular the chapter entitlted, "Tupelo," which is the strongest testament to the worth and complexity of human-animal bonds that I have ever read.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful By mirasreviews HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In 1988, Mark Bittner took a job as a housekeeper for an elderly woman in a building on San Francisco's famed Telegraph Hill. It offered a rent-free studio apartment, which was a real improvement for Bittner, a failed musician and occasional odd-jobber, who had recently been homeless. Little did he know at the time that the colorful noisy flock of birds outside his window would give his life purpose and allow him to find the perspective that he had sought through religion and philosophy. Like so many of us, he caught the bird-watching bug from observing his avian neighbors through his window. He felt compelled to learn about them, began to feed them, and embarked on the slow process of earning their trust. Unlike most of us, Mark Bittner's neighborhood birds were a flock of wild parrots, mostly cherry-headed conures. Some had been pets. Some were born in the wilds of San Francisco. They now all lived free in the city, eating from the trees in a nearby garden and from scattered bird feeders, and nesting in the local parks. Bittner set out to get to know these birds, with the hope of finding an avian friend who could remain free, yet enjoy his company. An odd goal perhaps, but, in interacting with the flock, Bittner got to know quite a few of the individual birds. Over the course of six years, he came to admire the standoffish but regal blue-crowned conure that he called Conner. He tried to save the lives of several juveniles who fell victim to a virus. He became too involved in flock politics. "The Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is a unique memoir of a man's relationship with a flock of parrots. Mark Bittner wasn't an avian expert and had to learn as he went along. He has an aimless personality that some readers may find annoying.Read more ›
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A. Peer on March 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I'm completely besotted by this gorgeous, honest, funny and heartwarming book. Even though it isn't available in Australia, I had it imported via a local bookshop.

If you're not a bird lover, you could become one after reading this book. If you are a bird lover like me, the book takes you on a deeply rewarding emotional journey. I fell in love, laughed and cried with every one of these feathery personalities. The book squeezed my heart, wrung it out, and filled it up, reminding me of the parrots I've met & loved in my life. The author's irrepressible urge to plant a kiss on his favourite birds and his willingness to share his meal with them made me smile because I know how that feels, and it may seem weird to non bird lovers. One also learns some interesting facts as the author has done some research in this area.

Mark's life intertwined with the birds' is also an interesting story. Some people may judge his unusual spiritual approach about not getting a job, but in the bigger picture, one can see how his spiritual journey led him to where he is today. He writes with a refreshing honesty, and comes through as a sensitive and compassionate soul.
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