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'Parrotman' tends to city's wild flock

November 25, 1995
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Susan Reed


SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- So what's a nice flock of parrots doing in a place like this?

That's what Mark Bittner wants to know. He has become their caretaker, not unlike San Francisco's namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who is the patron saint of animals.

"I was dumbfounded," says Bittner. "What are parrots doing in San Francisco? That's what everyone says when they see them."

When they're hungry, the birds arrive at Bittner's door, making an enormous racket (545K QuickTime movie). He knows each one of the 20 to 30 birds by name.

parrots feeding

There's Mandela, there's Dogan, Marlin, Stella, Bo, Sebastian, Scrapper, Scrappela, Henry, Mrs. Henry, and Sam, to name a few.

"There's Alcatraz out there in that fog bank," Bittner says. "There's the Birdman of Alcatraz. I occasionally get called the Birdman of Telegraph Hill or the Parrotman of Telegraph Hill." (77K AIFF sound or 77K WAV sound)

Despite their brilliant green plumage and a red heads, the parrots blend into the trees so well no one has really studied the birds, and no one can estimate how many there are.

Besides the Telegraph Hill flock, parrots have been spotted in other San Francisco neighborhoods. There's even a flock of lovebirds. They feed on the exotic plants, and thrive in the mild temperatures.

parrots in tree

It's a fact that doesn't surprise zoo officials.

"Many of the major cities have colonies of parrots that live in them," says John Aiken of the San Francisco Zoo. "The Monk parakeet ranges throughout the agricultural belt in the southern United States and is quite a crop pest."

Ronald Hobbs isn't surprised either. For decades, he's tended to exotic birds and knows how easy it is for people to fall under the birds' spell.

"No matter how much (people) know that they should keep their wings clipped, they sort of give in to the fact that they're attractive in flight. Then that one day comes when someone leaves the door open."

The birds probably descended from one or two pairs that escaped from private owners. Now the flock eats 10 pounds of seed a week.

"I'm getting a little tired of it," says Bittner. "It really requires a lot of time."

But Bittner is planning to move soon, leaving the care of his fine-feathered friends to another kind soul.

parrot head

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