Art imitates fauna in Judy Irving’s attractively home-grown documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The parrots themselves — about four dozen of them, a nonnative species who make their home in a boho corner of San Francisco — are barely wilder than Mark Bittner, the fiftysomething philosopher to all and employee of none who has made it his profession to feed them. More than that, Bittner has named and befriended his avian neighbors.
With his long, scraggly ponytail, abandoned dreams of becoming a musician, and squatter-out-of-the-’60s attitude to financial stability, Bittner is easy to type as a Type. But he refuses the label of ”eccentric,” and Irving doesn’t accept it either. Just as the self-taught naturalist takes the time and care to know each parrot, so Irving takes the time and care with Bittner, who emerges as a humane, insightful citizen-scholar. (When his own circumstances change dramatically, the lives of a few in the flock do too.) Wild Parrots has something of a molting look and an excess of watch-the-birds music. But in watching the birds and the man with an affectionate, curious eye, the filmmaker builds a story of surprising emotional resonance.