SF Conures Mingus3

The Wild Parrots From Telegraph Hill

An Update on Oasis Residents Mingus, Andi and Yosemite – March, 2005 PLUS Mark Bittner”s reunion with Mingus in July 2005

A few of the most famous residents of The Oasis have no idea they”re celebrities …. and they probably wouldn”t care if they did know. Cherry-Headed Conures Mingus, Andi (short for Anditson) and Yosemite spend their time eating, playing and noisily discussing events of the day with the other Conures and assorted parrots that live in the aviaries in the midst of The Oasis” pecan orchard.

In February 2004, the book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill [A Love Story…With Wings] by Mark Bittner was published simultaneously with the release of a documentary film by the same name (Judy Irving, Producer). After getting off to a slow start, a distributor was found and the movie is now being shown in theaters across the country to rave reviews. It”s the inspiring story of how one man found his life”s work and true love among an unruly flock of wild parrots roosting in one of America”s most picturesque urban settings , the hills of San Francisco. The flock of naturalized Cherry-Heads came to view Mark as a friend and he literally had them eating out of his hand (and sitting on his head, shoulders and arms).

As juveniles, Andi, Yosemite and Ginsberg (the weakest of the Telegraph Hills birds to arrive at The Oasis) became ill with what is suspected to be Pigeon Paramyxovirus. The disease left them severely crippled with neurological damage. Mark took them in and kept them fed and comfortable. Mingus tried to join the flock of wild Conures but was clearly an outsider. He had a crippled leg (which turned out to be due to a broken pelvis) and was unable to keep up with the flock. It became apparent why he welcomed the opportunity to live in Mark”s house , Mingus was fairly tame and has a band on his leg. He was obviously someone”s pet that got loose (either deliberately or by accident … we”ll never know). Mingus plays a starring role in the film.

In 1999 Mark was forced to leave Telegraph Hill for destinations unknown and looked for someone to care for these four disabled birds. He delivered them to Betsy Lott, a former Oasis Board member, who then brought them to the Sanctuary. Before they arrived, two 4x6x4-foot raised aviaries were constructed and customized for the birds” special needs with ramps and platforms. Only Mingus is able to fly; Yosemite and Ginsberg were not even able to perch, although they were excellent climbers. Sadly, Ginsberg, the most severely disabled of the group, passed away in December 2001.


Andi and Mingus live together, with Yosemite right next door. All have compensated for their various disabilities and move around with a minimum of difficulty. They all take pride in their appearance and are beautifully feathered. When Andi gets excited, the neurological damage she suffered is obvious, but is not readily apparent when she”s calm. When anyone approaches their cage, Mingus fluffs up all his feathers to make himself as large as possible and, protective of Andi, assumes a threatening stance. Andi makes threatening overtures also, but always when she”s hiding behind Mingus. The three birds are healthy enough to remain outdoors year-round in Southern Arizona”s fairly temperate climate.

Update from Mark Bittner (July, 2005):

For the last few months, I”ve been going around the country answering questions about the movie and book. Invariably, I hear one particular question: Have you gone back to visit Mingus? And until recently the somewhat embarrassing answer has always been “No, I haven”t had the time.” This July I finally found the time, so the film”s director Judy Irving and I made our way by airplane and car to the Oasis – Judy with her camera and I with my guitar.

I was impressed with the stark beauty and profound silence of the desert north of Benson, where the Oasis Sanctuary is located. It”s completely different from any other landscape I”ve ever visited. We arrived in the late evening – the birds were all asleep – so we postponed the reunion for the next morning.

I have to say that I felt excited about seeing Mingus (or, as I used to call him, Mingus the Mongoose, which described his penchant for running out from under furniture to attack my feet). If you”ve seen the film you know that Mingus is a pretty good dancer, but I was extremely dubious that he would do anything other than stare at me when I pulled out my guitar. Coming down the line of cages I recognized him immediately (as well as the other two from the flock, Andi and Yosemite), and I felt real joy. Mingus”s first reaction to me, however, was to threaten to bite me. SAME OLD MINGUS! I talked to him sweetly and he continued to threaten me. But as it finally dawned on him who I was, the threats became more perfunctory and finally vanished. We had a nice get-together.

Mingus and the others are doing very well. They live in excellent conditions, where they”re able to stay outside in fresh air pretty much year-round. And they eat better food than I was ever able to provide for them. All three looked healthy and contented. I thank Sybil, T. J., and the others for the wonderful support they provide the Cherry-Heads as well as the hundreds of other birds at the Oasis, who would otherwise be in pitiful conditions or even dead.

I”m still answering questions all over the country (soon the world – I”m going to Australia), and now when I tell people that yes, I”ve seen Mingus, the question I get asked most often is “Did he dance?” My answer is? You”ll have to wait to see the DVD.

To learn more about Mark Bittner and his relationship with the wild Cherry-Headed Conures, go to: