Of Parrots and Peacocks

Via flickr user Ingrid Taylar

While the emphasis on the Urban Adventure League may be “Urban”, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t care about nature! In fact, nature explorations in the city (and outside of it) are a fun and very integral part of the league! (Don’t you forget it!) Which leads me to this…

Last night, as conclusion to my “birthday week”, Jay and Steev brought me to the Cinemagic to see the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. It documents the flock of “wild” parrots that live in the North Beach/Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco. I had been interested in the documentary since first hearing about it, since I had worked in that area during my brief Bay Area adventure. The cacophony of parrots was part of my daily routine. In fact, the movie opens with a scene of Walton Square Park, which was right next door to where I worked! Ah, memories…

The doc itself was quite good. It centers around Mark Bittner, an older bohemian jack-of-all-trades type who lives in a cottage on the north slope of Telegraph Hill (on one of those really cool “stairway” streets going down the steep hill that I loved walking down). Mark becomes the caretaker of the flock, feeding them daily. He also studies them in an informal way, getting so close to the birds that he has a name for each one. As with most documentaries, there can be some boring spots in there. They spend a long time talking about each individual bird and its personality before they kick in to talking about Mark’s life, and the mid-section drags in places. But I would recommend you seeing this film if you get a chance.

The most interesting part for me is towards the end, when they list off all the places where flocks of wild parrots have been spotted. While it’s still a mystery how these non-native parrots came to live in the wild (many urban legends are shared in the film), what’s even more baffling is where some of these parrots end up! I can understand a flock surviving in the temperate climes of SF (note to those who claim that San Francisco’s winter should be “too cold” for tropical birds: dude, you don’t know what a cold winter is like), but Chicago? And here in Portland? And in my home state of Connecticut?

After the movie, I consulted the world’s most indispensable repository of knowledge, i.e. Google. And here’s some things I’ve come up with:

  • Brooklyn Parrots is a website documenting not only the birds of the titular borough, but of New Jersey as well. The gent that runs the site occasionally leads tours to the areas the birds are found.
  • Roadside Attractions is typically a site about offbeat roadside attractions, but this page talks about the Connecticut parrots. They are found in the towns along the shore of Long Island Sound. UPDATE 31 MAY 2020: Apparently the nests were destroyed in 2013. 
  • Here is a page from the Moonie-run University of Bridgeport, documenting the birds found along the campus (fyi: Bridgeport is CT’s largest city and is located on the Long Island Sound.) UPDATE 4/19/2012: The aforementioned link is dead. 
  • Monk Parakeet is a good all-around site that documents the parrot colonies in the US. On the site can be found the location of the Portland Parrots, 5 nests located in Oregon White Oaks around the airport. I don’t know how old the page is (no date is given) so I’m not sure if they are there anymore…anyone care to find out? UPDATE 31 MAY 2020: This link is also dead.
Urban peacock spotted in the Errol Heights neighborhood of Portland in 2018. Photo: me.

While I’m on the subject of exotic birds outside of their native environment, has anyone seen the feral Peacocks of Portland? Yes, that’s right! I’ve seen two on two separate occasions: one wandering around the neighborhood streets of Sellwood, and one near the Columbia Slough (around Faloma). I can’t seem to find much info online about the wild peacocks, does anyone out there have anything more?  

Like parrots, peacocks can survive Portland’s not-really-that-cold-people-so-stop-complaining-about-it winter. Also like parrots, they are regarded by many as pests, non-native species encroaching on other animals territory. The peacocks and parrots are breeding, worrying many naturalists that we’ll soon have an uncontrollable problem on our hands. The parrots get the most hatred from utility companies, as they make their nests atop telephone poles. Many of the utility companies will outright euthanise any parrot they come across, making the parrot-lovers quite irate. The most ironic thing about it all is these parrots have been hunted to near-extinction in their native habitats, yet are thriving and claiming new territory in areas thought to be too inhospitable for them to survive. Who knows what we’ll see next?


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