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The Wild Parrots of San Francisco

Visitors to San Francisco will be expecting to see the famous seals which hang about adjacent to fisherman’s wharf. They probably don’t anticipate stumbling across wild parrots in the heart of the city. But there is a flock of cherry-headed conjures in San Francisco and the birds have been spotted from the Ferry Building at Embarcadero all the way to Sunnyvale.

The Frisco Flock

The streets of San Francisco are quite possibly the last place that you would expect to find wild parrots but there are around 300 of the birds which now call the city home. The birds are natives of Ecuador and Peru and nobody is sure quite how they first arrived on the streets of the city.

There have been a number of theories about the birds’ arrival. Clearly the first specimens would have been birds which were imported for the pet trade. But how did they end up living wild in the city?

Burning Shop

There is a much repeated story about a woman who had something of a mental breakdown and then burned down a pet shop which featured the conures. But this sad tale is only partly true. A pet shop in Pasadena did burn down and a woman tried to save the trapped birds. But she was of sound mind and the parrots of San Francisco were probably not the ones released from the shop during the fire.

It is far more likely that the city’s birds simply escaped from their owners or were deliberately released by people who found that they couldn’t cope with their pets. These birds rarely learn to talk and are prone to screeching which can make them difficult to live with.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

The birds were the subjects of the book "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" by Mark Bittner and also a documentary of the same name. Bittner was a homeless musician who interacted with the birds and his relationship with them transformed his life. In the book Bittner explains that The conures sleep in holes in trees and do not build nests. consists of fruits, vegetables, flowers and blossoms. Seeds are not so good for them although the birds will eat them. Bittner continues to study the conures to this day.

There are thought to be around 300 conjures living wild in the Bay Area. However, the health of the birds is now threatened by an unnamed disease. Many of the adolescent conures have contracted a strange condition that affects their balance. This has meant that they have a tendency to fly into windows. More research is required into the condition which could claim many of the bird’s lives.

The conures of San Francisco are not native birds and they aren’t really meant to be there. But somehow they seem to belong. The birds are a fabulous sight so if you are ever in this wonderful city, make sure that you look out for the birds.


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