City saves trees for parrots of Telegraph Hill 

After 18 months of negotiations, The City struck a unique deal with a private property owner to take care of two trees for the famous and colorful wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.

San Francisco will take over the responsibility and liability for two aging Monterey cypress trees on private property along Greenwich Street where the world famous cherry-headed conures spend a lot of their time, much to the enjoyment of residents and visitors from afar.

For Greenwich Street property owner John Cowen, the old trees were a liability he no longer wanted to worry about. When he planned on cutting the trees down, fans of the parrots were up in arms, fearing that without the trees the parrots would move far away from Telegraph Hill. It was then that The City and interested parties began negotiations.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty has brought forward legislation that outlines the agreement, which comes before the full Board of Supervisors today for a vote.

The City would pay for the upkeep of the two aging trees for at least three years while replacement habitat can be planted and grow up in the meantime.

According to the legislation, Cowen is responsible for planting the new trees. Cowen did not return calls from The Examiner on Monday.

A $5,000 donation by the Northeast San Francisco Conservancy is expected to offset The City’s cost for the needed pruning of the two trees.

The Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee praised the legislation during Monday’s hearing, which drew strong support among longtime parrot watchers.

Among them was Mark Bittner, who helped popularize the parrots in a book titled "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," and has long fought to preserve the parrots’ habitat.

"I’m quite astonished that this is happening. And I’m really grateful," Bittner said. "I just don’t want their life to be made any more difficult," he added.

Dufty said the "unique and wonderful piece of legislation" is the result of intense negotiations among interested parties. The legislation will ensure habitat for the wild Telegraph Hill parrots that "have become San Francisco’s most unique and natural wildlife attractions over the years for locals and visitors alike," Dufty said.

Judy Irving, who directed a documentary based on Bittner’s book, estimated there were 200 parrots in the flock. "They are doing very well. They bring people joy. They’re colorful. They’re feisty," Irving said.

Many are in awe that these parrots were able to adjust to San Francisco’s urban environment. "We’re lucky they’re there," Irving said. "They’re endangered and threatened in the areas they are from in South America, so it’s terrific they are able to adapt in The City."

Irving said the parrots use the two trees to watch out for hawks, to preen, to have conversations, to stash their babies while they go look for food. "We call them the parrot café trees," Irving said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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