January 15, 2006

San Francisco Parrot Controversy on Verge of Truce

A recent controversy in San Francisco has been the battle over the fate of the Cypress trees on Telegraph Hill which form the roost of the parrots that starred in the documentary and corresponding book called, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. SF Parrot The problem arose when the owner of the property where the trees stand decided he needed to get rid of the trees because they were old and decayed, and a hazard to the neighborhood. However, when Mark Bittner, the author of the book and friend of the parrots, found out about the plans for razing the parrots' trees, he decided to fight for their habitat and even threw his body in front of the chain saws that threatened the trees.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Gavin Newsom's office stepped in to negotiate a compromise. The trees would live, but would have to be trimmed in order to remove the most dangerous branches.

The plan is to plant trees alongside the existing cypresses that, within three years, would come to resemble in size and habitat value the trees that the parrots use for roosting, spying on preying hawks and stashing their offspring while they hunt for food. The new trees also would provide temporary structural support for the aging trees that are in danger of falling.

The older trees will remain standing until an arborist determines they simply must go, but they will be significantly pruned so they pose less of a danger of toppling onto someone or someone's house.

The parrots in this story are conures, long-tailed parrots that originated in Central or South America and were brought here as pets. Some years ago, enough of the parrots escaped or were set free to build a colony in San Francisco. Today, they are free and wild birds enjoying the balmy weather of SF and they have become happy permanent residents of these United States.

The United States had only one native parrot, also a conure - the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. According to Audubon, they were lovely birds, but with the coming of the white man, they were condemned as agricultural pests. They were wiped out as were the Passenger Pigeons in the 1800s. As charming as the parrots on display in the touching story by Mark Bittner, these parrots had one habit that sealed their doom: namely, they would not abandon their wounded or dead companions. As Alexander Wilson, a 19th century bird biologist wrote:

Having shot down a number, some of which were only wounded, the whole flock swept repeatedly around their prostrate companions, and again settled on a low tree, within twenty yards of the spot where I stood. At each successive discharge, tho showers of them fell, yet the affection of the survivors seemed rather to increase; for after a few circuits around the place, they again alighted near me, looking down on their slaughtered companions with such manifest symptoms of sympathy and concern, as entirely disarmed me.

The Birder's Handbook, Erlich, Dobkin and Wheye, 1988, pg. 279

Hopefully, the wild parrots of San Francisco will have a long and very happy life on Telegraph Hill where they will continue to charm and entertain us all.

Posted by Mary at January 15, 2006 10:08 PM | Miscellaneous | Technorati links |

Reminds me of the wild parrots in LA. First saw them in 1992; at the time I lived in an apartment complex north of LAX on the coast. The grounds were landscaped with these funky trees which bore a fruit. No other bird would touch the fruit, but the day the fruit ripened, a large flock of green parrots descended and ate it all up.

Posted by: PhilW at January 16, 2006 07:35 PM

there are multiple now-wild flocks of parrots and parroty birds on the Palos Verdes Penninsula in LA, as well as a couple of flocks of peacocks. It's pretty neat. Except during peacock mating season, when it sounds like a mass murder.

Posted by: pril at January 16, 2006 07:46 PM