Find Me On

The birds of San Francisco

There is a small park beside the Embarcadero Center, on the corner of Clay and Drumm Sts., that the casual bird-watcher in me wants to visit whenever I can. The cluster of trees there hosts a sizable population of green parrots that have made the city their home. Presumably this is part of the flock that roosts in nearby Telegraph Hill. This flying community has been featured on a number of TV programs, to include the following.

City residents apparently love their birds. Which appears to give rise to an interesting . . . culture . . . among the city’s avian residents.

Aggressive . . . relentless . . . self-entitled.

We discovered these facets of San Franciso’s bird population first hand a few years ago when my wife and I took her parents around the touristy part of the city’s waterfront. We bought hotdogs from a street vendor and were enjoying an afternoon stroll by the water. As we moved from one photo-op site to another, muching on our meals, Seagulls were circling overhead. We had apparently wandered into their domain, and we would soon find out that they expected a toll in exchange for passage.¬†While posing for a photo, my father-in-law held his sandwich off to one side. That became the toll collector’s cue and a large grey-white mass of feathers swooped in and halved what was left of dad’s dog. The hotdog wasn’t on the ground, or left on the table unattended. It was in a live person’s hand — within throat-grabbing distance.

Shock came first, followed immediately thereafter with laughter and amusement, as well as begrudging admiration at a display of audacity. It was an unexpected novelty that added another fun dimension to the day. Since then, when my wife and I find ourselves in SF, we’re on the lookout for unsuspecting tourists that find themselves in a similar situation. This experience apparently wasn’t unique to us.

Gulls are not alone in their belief that people exist to feed them. The other week, while enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the Ferry Building, we ran into the following bird that expected a culinary tribute for allowing us to sit at its table.

Perched on the back rest of the chair beside me, this bird had an unflinching laser-like focus on our french fries. We tried shooing it away and only stopped short of actually touching it it wouldn’t budge. There was no breaking its concentration, or shaking its belief that “Puny land-bound human, where’s my share?!!!”

We were all more accustomed to birds that were fearful of people. Back home, these creatures understood that most humans either viewed them as sport . . . or even in some circumstances, as snacks. San Franciscans are apparently a kinder lot, to whom these feathered flying appetites have grown accustomed. These KFC-ingredient-candidates are lucky to live where they do. They arguably wouldn’t survive long back home.

These birds are as much a part the city as the fog that obscures the Golden Gate bridge on what would otherwise be a clear day, or the local micro-climate that simulate different seasons in a single day. They are part of the quirkiness of the city, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides . . . its fun watching dumbfounded tourists watching their hotdogs plucked from their hands and carried aloft. Schadenfreude!!!

Leave a Reply