Coit Tower and San Francisco’s Parrots
Take a walk to the top of Telegraph Hill for the view and check out Coit Tower… but make sure you walk down the Filbert Street steps to see the wild parrots too.
There’s a statue of Christopher Columbus and nice views from the top of Telegraph Hill. The view’s even better from Coit Tower, but the fee keeps going up, and I don’t feel it’s worth the $5 to go to the top. If you’re around while the tower is open, wander in and inspect the interesting Depression-era murals on the ground-floor walls. There’s no charge to look around.
After getting your fill of scenery and art, head down the Filbert Street steps. It’s nice enough—a steep walkway down the hill with plantings on either side, and with any luck, you’ll run into the parrots. The parrots are famous and have been subjects of both a book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, by Mark Bittner, and a documentary film of the same name. Yet many people in the city don’t know they exist! These cherry-headed conures, often called Christmas parrots, are about a foot long, with iridescent green bodies and red heads. The flock may have begun with a small number of escaped birds or birds released by their owners, but it’s now up to well over 100 birds. They survive year-round in San Francisco, ranging from the Presidio and Fort Mason to Washington Square and Telegraph Hill.
They squawk loudly, so you’re likely to hear them before you see them. Listen for them, then stop and wait. They’re hard to spot among the leaves, but with any luck, something will spook them, and the whole flock will fly off at once. When the sun’s right, it’s spectacular: a noisy explosion of shiny green confetti, blasted out of the trees into the blue sky.
The parrots do make their rounds about the city, so you may miss them. Keep listening, and you may find them in one of San Francisco’s other parks.