2 Stars - Wholesome
The natural world can become a mirror to our souls. Created as companions with whom we share our lives, the birds and animals provide simple examples of how our lives can be lived in the moment and the consequences of such choices. This is the experience of the true story of Mark Bittner and his adoption of the “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”
Finding himself alone and walking a different path from society, Mark had come to San Francisco many years earlier to play his music. After living on the streets for over fifteen years, he had finally found a refuge in a 19th century dwelling on the back side of Telegraph Hill in the shadow of Coit Tower. There amidst an overgrown garden, he adopts, or actually he is adopted by, a small group of twenty-four wild parrots. All but one of them are Cherry-Headed Conures who soon begin to mate and create a bourgeoning flock of over one hundred and sixty birds. But one of the birds is a Blue-Crowned Conure, whom Mark names Conner.
It is clear as we watch Mark’s interaction with the birds and his observation of their lives that we are hearing the inner struggles of Mark himself. Alone and unable to find a mate, Conner is of special interest to Mark. We understand why as Mark explains that his long hair is a choice he made to not cut his hair until he finds a girlfriend. This identification with Conner is all the more obvious when he is given another Blue-crowned Conure and Mark invites Conner to come into his home and get acquainted with a bird who is “like him.” This well-conceived plan goes awry when it is discovered that the new conure is also a male and no courting can occur. Although at first Conner seems pleased to find a bird of like plumage, he soon discovers that the price he would have to pay to continue his companionship is his freedom. Conner chooses his freedom. It appears as though Mark has chosen freedom as well.
Mark has no visible income and lives primarily off the good graces of local merchants and landlords who do not charge him rent or ask for payment for food. He receives handouts just as the birds who come to see him receive their food from his hand. But it is in their common need that Mark begins to find his way.
When Judy Irvine decides to film his birds, Mark discovers that his simple narrative and inclusion in the parrots’ flock is a winsome combination that not only provides a purpose for his life but also the possibility of love.
- What do you think of Mark’s decision to leave society and live a homeless life, finally adopting the wild birds outside his door as his friends? Is this a choice you would be willing to make? If so, under what circumstances?
- The fact that there are predatory hawks who prey on the parrots causes Mark pain because of his love for them. Do you believe he should have intervened and stopped the hawks? Why or why not?
- The death of Conner coincides with the end of Mark’s free lodging in his ancient home. Do you believe this loss with its resulting change will be good for Mark?
- When we see Mark’s hair being cut, we assume that something has happened in his life. Were you surprised by what happened? How do you see the two of them as being similar to the pairs of birds Mark had observed? How do you see them as being different? Which pair do they match most closely: Sophie and Conner; Pushkin and Olive; Olive and Gibson, (the one from whom Pushkin stole Olive away); Scrapper and Scrapperella (who plucked Scrapper’s feathers); Erica and Russell (Erica is the oldest female and the “Eve” of the flock)?
- Which bird do you most identify with: Conner, Sophie, Pushkin, Olive, Gibson, Mingus? Why?