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Contributing to Parrot Obesity? Watch Out!

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The wild parrots of Telegraph Hill

Image by aefitzhugh via Flickr

“Obesity is a big problem in this country,” said Barbara Perrow, a San Francisco tourist, “and we have to start somewhere.” Was this brilliant thinker talking about children? Adults over 50? All Americans? Guess again—Ms. Perrow, who hails from New Haven, Connecticut, was shocked, shocked! to find, upon visiting San Francisco, that her favorite celebrities, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, are getting fat and lazy because stupid humans insist on feeding them. Parrots, she says, should be left to fend for themselves.

This thesis, acsribed to by a slew of tourists, was somehow submitted to the Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee of the SF Board of Supervisors, who promptly passed a proposal banning the feeding of parrots. When and if it’s approved by the full Board, it’ll become law.


As one of the felons feeding apples and sunflower seeds to the parrots, I fear for my freedom—might I be jailed if my activities become illegal? Of course, I could just cease and desist—but first I want to know: what exactly are these parrots going to eat if I do? It’s not as if they’re living in the rain forest, dining on fat worms. Judy Irving, the film producer who made the parrots famous, says the birds are losing their ability to forage. Therefore I also want to know: what exactly are the birds going to forage for in the city? Avocado sandwiches and leftover pizza–impeccably wrapped and barely touched–judging from what a friend of mine says he finds in the dumpsters of San Francisco. Are sandwiches with aioli better for birds than apples? Are parrots more likely to stay slender and healthy eating pizza rather than sunflower seeds? And why is Irving worried anyway? Is she planning another film and wants the parrots to be in buff Hollywood condition?

A more pertinent question might be: doesn’t the SF Board of supervisors have anything more important to do than fret about obese parrots? Likewise, what’s up with these tourists? Did taking Carol Doda’s boobs down from the corner of Broadway and Columbus leave them with too much time on their hands? Aren’t the seals of Fisherman’s Wharf and the restaurants of North Beach enough to keep out-of-towners amused? Maybe someone should send them an invitation to a sex party.

I just know someone’s going to say I’m callous, that I don’t care sufficiently about Mother Nature’s creatures, that attitudes like mine are killing the planet. Not true! I am concerned about what the parrots eat. But this idea of letting them fend for themselves smacks of neo-conservatism—as if we’re turning them into “welfare queens,” or coddling them like illegal “aliens.” Until someone can tell me what the parrots will eat without my apples, or show me the scientific study that says I’m killing them with sunflower seeds, I have no intention of abandoning them.

Below: Lazy Parrots Eating Handouts from Callous Citizens



8 responses »

  1. These birds have lived in S.F. for about 20 years. They’ve only been fed by humans for 1 1/2 to 2 yrs. They got along fine before humans began feeding them. So did pigeons and many other birds that live in the city. None of them need us to feed them.

  2. In what way is it bad for the parrots to be chubby? Obesity doesn’t cause very many health problems for humans, if you look at the actual medical research as opposed to the fat nazi propaganda. What’s the science on parrot obesity? What exactly IS parrot obesity? If they’re too fat to fly to the humans who feed them then maybe they’ll lose weight! This sounds like unnecessary moral panic spreading, to me. Clearly the city should pay for parrot therapy and yoga lessons?

  3. I have a question for those who say that the parrots can survive without human help:

    Which San Francisco winter did they survive without getting seeds from backyard birdfeeding stations?

    If you can’t asnwer that then how can you say that they can survive without human help.


  4. The parrots have eaten sunflower seeds provided by humans from their very begining as a flock in SF. Mark Bittner himself documents in his book that the first flock member was seen eating sunflower seeds out of someone’s backyard bird feeder in 1984. In her movie, Judy Irving interviews someone who began to feed the first pair of conures in 1987. Mark began to feed them daily around 1990 and fed them sunflower seeds several times a day for at least 6 years. We’ve taken pictures of them eating sunflower seeds out of feeders all over Telegraph Hill. Whether a person is holding the seeds or not, the birds have ALWAYS eaten human provided food, and there is no proof that they’ve even gone a day without it. Now they are just being denied such offerings in their downtown roosting park. Anyone lucky enough to live on private property on Telegraph Hill can still feed them, though – that should give us some comfort that the birds will continue to be provided for.

  5. I have lived in North Beach for over 20 years…one of the great joys I have is watching the birds. There are few things more enjoyable than seeing a flock of flying parrots.

    It is unfortunate that Irving’s movie and Bittner have done so much harm to the parrots by popularizing them. The success of the movie has garnered worldwide attention and made the parrots a San Francisco tourist attraction. Yes, it is probably best that tourists and natives not feed the birds but, come on! The real danger to these birds is people harming them or capturing them for sale. I met someone last week who told me that he had seen kids in the Avenues throwing rocks at them. He also said that he saw some Cherry-headed Conures for sale in a local pet store—implying that they had been caught locally and caged.

    These birds are a non-indigenous species (that is, they are not native to California or North America). If the flock ever grows large enough and makes its way to California’s Central Valley, farmers will respond to them in the same way farmers in Australia respond to Cockatoos (i.e., capturing and killing them for destroying their crops).

    If tourists/locals treat the birds with kindness and don’t overdo it, I don’t see any great harm in feeding them. It is difficult for people to survive in San Francisco, especially given the high rents and housing prices. Having these birds around adds a bit of joy to the world…the amount of attention these birds attract is far more dangerous than anything a handful of seeds can inflict.

    San Francisco Supervisors have enough on their plate and should not be spending any time considering this issue. Haven’t Bittner and Irving exploited the birds long enough and isn’t it time for them to focus their attention elsewhere?

    This is really interesting information. I’ve never before heard anyone criticize those who made the film. Nor have I heard about cruelty to the parrots. Shouldn’t that be reported to the SPCA? You’d think that organization would get involved in this controversy. Thanks for telling us all this.–MS

  6. Great comments, Larry!

  7. Yesterday I was in the park on Clay Street where the parrots customarily come to be fed. At 4:45 p.m. about 60 or so parrots swooped down and circled the park, where, finding nobody with food, they went into the trees and stayed there for the next half hour or more (I left). Seems like the people know about the new law against feeding, but the birds haven’t caught on yet.–MS

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