While the parrots have been dubbed the “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” you will see and hear the parrots all over San Francisco. Most of my friends didn’t believe me when I explained why our phone conversations were being interrupted by wild screeching and chattering noises. “Hang on,” I’d say, “the parrots are flying by again.”
I was moved to write about our neon-colored friends this afternoon because they could not stop squawking this afternoon. My initial annoyance with the noise level gave way to sympathy when I realized the cause for their agitation: the air show, part of this week’s Fleet Week festivities, had caught them unawares. Parrots, meet the afterburners of the Blue Angels. Just don’t get in their way! (Plug: look for some Fleet Week photos here soon!)
These parrots are not indigenous to San Francisco. While they may hail from Ecuador and Peru, you’ll think they were born downtown once you see them in action. Have you seen a parrot fly? Perhaps not — likely you’ve only seen them in captivity, or in photographs. These are quite agile pilots, and their speed and dexterity will shock you. As will their screech — these birds are loud!
The parrots have even found themselves listed on Yelp — surely a feat worth mentioning. Love them or hate them, the parrots are here to stay. Hate them, though, and surely Yelp is the best place to vent frustration fueled by their constant chatter. I often see them in large flocks, ranging in size from ten parrots to more than thirty.
My first run-in with the parrots was during my first week here in San Francisco. I was just heading down from Coit Tower when I noticed a peculiar road heading down from the area. It was dark, shaded by trees coming down the side of the hill. Comprised of wooden walkways, as well as a very out-of-place street sign, this walkway runs down the side of the hill and connects many houses on the way down. Halfway down the hill, loud birds from the trees above startled me, and I looked up, only to find a parrot staring right back at me, several feet above my head. It chattered away, chewing on some berries, looking down at me without a care in the world. While they have grown used to our presence, loud noises will still spook them. Constantly on guard, they will be gone in an instant if a visitor makes too much noise.
A few weeks later, I ran into the parrots again. This time, they were downtown, in some very tall trees near the Ferry Building. They like to travel between Telegraph Hill and downtown, in a route that (happily) includes airspace above my building.
Mark Bittner is the author of Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, the book and video that shed some light on these beautiful Bay Area squawkers. He explains exactly what types of birds they are:
Most of the birds in the flock are of a species known variously as the cherry-headed conure, red-masked conure, and red-headed conure – all pet trade names. Ornithologists call them red-masked parakeets, and the scientific name is Aratinga erythrogenys. In the summer of 1995, a female mitred conure (or mitred parakeet, Aratinga mitrata) showed up. She began to breed with the cherry heads, and continued to do so until at least 2006.
Mark spent six years studying the birds and raising public awareness of their presence in our backyards. He has since moved on to new topics, but his web page provides more information on the birds, their origins, and the best places to see them. Visit his “parrot pages” here, and his main web page here.
You can see more of my parrot photos in my gallery right here.