The Wild Parrots of San Francisco

Written by Ellen Leroe

Illustrations by Kathy O’Malley

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“They flash overhead in a burst of color, bright as kites in the sky. They fill the air with joyous shrieks.” No, it’s not Superman and his buddies, it’s the wild parrots of San Francisco!

In her book, The Wild Parrots of San Francisco, author Ellen Leroe shares the story of this famous flock of cherry-red and blue-crowned conures. The flock, believed to have originated from six birds that escaped or were released after being imported from Ecuador decades ago, now numbers 200 or more. The birds have historically spent most of their time on Telegraph Hill, but current news articles suggest that they have moved into suburban areas of the city, too.

Much of what we know about the wild parrots comes from the observations of Mark Bittner, himself living rather wildly on the streets of San Francisco in the mid-late 1990s. Mr. Bittner observed the sociable birds for six years and shared his thoughts in a bestselling book for adults (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story…With Wings, 2005). Judy Irving, now his wife, filmed the story (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, 2005).

Leroe’s book is intended for children at an early elementary reading level. It is a work of non-fiction, but the charming, personable parrots seem almost like characters in a story. Young readers will learn about Mingus the bully, Paco, who was injured as a baby and required special care, and Dogen, who loves spaghetti. Groups of parrots dangle from the power lines (Kids! Don’t try this at home!) and follow ripening fruit and nuts around the city. Other than avoiding hawks—there are plenty in San Francisco that would enjoy a tasty parrot snack—the wild parrots seem to leave and be left alone by non-parrot birds.

Young readers, including those at the third grade level, will appreciate illustrator Kathy O’Malley’s cheerful watercolor illustrations. The images throughout the book capture the playful nature of the parrots and will help bring the birds to life for readers who might not have a chance to see them in person. The way O’Malley has painted the parrots’ eyes as both mischievous and friendly is especially compelling. In addition, a map shows how far these birds are from their biological home.

More about the parrots from Mark Bittner, the man who observed them for six years:

About the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill:

What’s in YOUR backyard? NYT article about exploring and documenting nature around our own homes:

Author Ellen Leroe’s website:

Illustrator’s website:

  • Title: The Wild Parrots of San Francisco
  • Author: Ellen Leroe
  • Illustrator: Kathy O’Malley
  • Publisher: Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Lisa Kahn Schnell
  • Paperback: 16 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-57274-980-1
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature, science

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