A review of “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ***

Rating: G for good stuff for all ages

Run Time: 1 hour, 23 minutes



Filmmaker Judy Irving makes a lovely little mountain out of a molehill in this poignant documentary emphasizing the confluence of man and animal.

Mark Bittner is a drifter, a professional street musician cum dharma bum who lands in San Francisco and takes an unexpected fancy to a vibrant flock of cantankerous parrots. 

With no money and temporary digs at his disposal Mark finds his life’s calling.  He and his feathered friends share a powerful rebelliousness and an unquenchable thirst for freedom; their mutual trust uniquely charming.

Mark distinguishes his colorful cohorts (40-plus of them) by their individual markings and distinct personal characteristics, lending the Cherry-Headed and Blue-Crown Conures unusual character and an intimate connection to an unfamiliar human world.

The birds are remarkable; a dignified drove of eccentrics who come to life under Mark’s quirky tutelage.  Connor is a plucker, filled with nervous energy and repeatedly pulling his own feathers from around his neck, perhaps due to the painful loss of a feathered soulmate.  Sophie and Picasso are a classic love match, at each others’ sides no matter what the tenor or the weather.

Mingus is a bi-polar crank who doesn’t want a human friend but suffers Mark’s attentions with stately splendor.  Mark lays himself bare to his birds while Irving manages to keep it personal by peppering Mark with probing questions about his past (and shaky future) and his ability to stay afloat despite living at near-poverty levels.  Her cinematic style is low-budget chic, emphasis on the low-budget (which intermittently hampers the natural flow). 

The answer to Irving’s most burning question is left up in the air like sweet perfume; anthropomorphism or a genuine connection?  Alternately enchanting and bittersweet, Parrots is a winsome nature doc with a heart.