SAN FRANCISCO – A flock of wild parrots that took up residence on a hill overlooking the bay, becoming the subject of a best-selling book and documentary film, were nowhere to be seen Tuesday after one of their perches was cut down and two others faced a similar fate.
Mark Bittner (search), who brought attention to the bright green and red birds that have delighted tourists and residents for years, halted a tree crew Monday before they cut down three cypresses whose owner wants them removed because they pose a hazard.
"I would be a horrible human being if I wasn't helping my friends out, and they are my friends," Bittner, 53, said Tuesday as he stood outside his cabin near the lone cypress stump and the surviving pair of trees.
The evergreens have shielded the birds from predators and sheltered their young, but their owner fears they could fall on someone or a surrounding home.
Workers with chain saws succeeded in cutting down one of the trunks before Bittner, star of the film "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill", and author of a book by the same name, stood in front of the other two trees and refused to move.
The contractors backed off, and both trees remained standing Tuesday as Bittner tried to reach a compromise with their owner.
Bittner, who lives on the property and once served as its caretaker, first encountered the parrots in 1993. The lime-green conures (search) — which are native to South America and were likely imported before quarantines — were only local celebrities until the independent movie came out in 2003 to critical praise.
Bittner travels the world speaking about how the birds helped him turn his life around after a period of homelessness. The filmmaker, Judy Irving, 59, has moved in with Bittner and is preparing a DVD release of the film.
The one constant in their lives is the parrots. Two injured birds now live in their home, but the flock was scared away by the buzz of chain saws.
"They were spooked. They took off and haven't come back," Bittner said.
The trees serve as a base camp for some of the flock of about 200 parrots and as a rest stop for younger parrots, who don't have the endurance to fly long distances.
Bittner, Irving and property owner John Cowen have been negotiating for roughly four months about what should happen to the troublesome trees.
Cowen could not immediately be reached by phone for comment Tuesday. He told the San Francisco Examiner that limbs are dropping from the cypresses, putting pedestrians at risk on the hills below.
"They've got rot, they've got termites," Cowen said, adding that he would replant the trees if they are cut.
Bittner agreed that the tree cut down Monday should go, but said the other two cypresses should be repaired, not cut down. Neighbor Stan Hayes has even offered to pay for pruning and help with payments for extra insurance costs.
"We can't let the trees go without a fight. They are so important to the character of this neighborhood — and these parrots are part of the heart and soul of Telegraph Hill," he said.