All photos taken at a respectful distance with a 70-300mm Zuiko lens: effective reach, 600mm.
I was meandering toward Market in San Francisco when I saw them in my peripheral vision. It was cluster of rambunctious humans, a large family with children. It shouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary on a San Francisco summer day. But something was wrong — I got that familiar coil of nerves in my gut. I decided I’d better trust my instincts.
I detoured to the characteristic sound of the squawking parrot flock — one of my favorite San Francisco melodies. As I approached the area where the Red-masked Parakeets clustered and cawed, it became apparent that my gut feeling was correct: these people, not yet spotting me as I came around the corner, were trying to nab themselves a parrot. Ineptly, if truth be told. They were motly and unruly, and although I didn’t think they really had a chance, well — I didn’t want to take that chance.
I asked them what they were doing. They knew I was on to them. They went demur on me, adopting an indignant “what? me?” stance for the most part. I sat for a moment with my camera, snapped their license plate (just in case), then meandered away. I suspected they’d be at it again once I was out of sight. So, I rounded a corner where I was still able to see them — and sure enough, they were chasing the birds. I grabbed H~, who was ambling my way, and we headed back over together.
They had their arms outstretched with food for the birds – a violation of the San Francisco “no feeding” ordinance but a breach that tourists sometimes unknowingly commit. These weren’t ordinary tourists. I told them of the city rule. They turned bellicose and told me to “get lost and mind my own business.” The truth is, this is our business, whether we choose to engage it or not. If someone’s intent is to harass or harm, it’s valid to speak up.
The family members behaved while we were around, with the exception of taunting us by pretending to lunge for the parrots. They were a lot bigger and more numerous than us. We decided that being around to keep an eye on the parrots was the only option.
We stayed underneath the murmuring parrot trees until the people drove away with their out-of-state super van. Until after dark — just to make sure they didn’t come back. And then we notified a few sources we knew would keep a keen eye on the parrots for the next few days — to be certain these jokers didn’t try it again.
Most Bay Area residents will recall the controversy that arose over the feeding prohibition. One of the arguments for prohibiting parrot feeding spoke to this very type of situation. Habituated wild animals of any kind — although admired and respected by the majority of people — are always in danger from those unscrupulous few. If I hadn’t seen these boneheads with my own eyes and camera lens, I would be far less distressed about the familiarity I know these magical birds have with most humans.
What do you do if you happen to witness something like this? Give San Francisco Animal Care and Control a call and let them know what’s going on. If there’s a local law enforcement officer nearby, see if they might be able to help. If you’re comfortable approaching people and it seems safe to do so, you can let them know it’s against the ordinance to feed the birds — which might help.
These types of things tend to happen in unguarded moments and hours. Even these greasy, belligerent souls knew enough to stop their nefarious activity when someone else was watching — me, a relatively non-threatening presence, if you must know. It was an odd coincidence that it was just me and them in as populated a city as San Francisco, but it does happen. I’m just glad I happened to be passing by in a moment where even one moment of my presence became of use.
If you haven’t yet seen the brilliant documentary about San Francisco’s parrot flocks you’re probably not from San Francisco. Even if you are from SF and somehow missed this now classic city gem, get yourself over to the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill website and grab a copy. Or read Mark Bittner’s detailed account of the parrots in the book by the same title.
The parrot pictured above, was sliding down a light pole, reaching the bend, then flying off to start again. A precious moment in city parrot life.
More About San Francisco’s Wild Parrots: