Put a Bird On It
I have long been a defender of pigeons, which is a lonely stance in San Francisco. What people don’t understand is that city pigeons are only disgusting because we city dwellers are disgusting. They are actually quite intelligent and impressive, only pecking at the likes of fried chicken bones in the gutter because of our careless littering. In fact, the postal system of the Roman Empire was dependent on carrier pigeons, and they are known in some parts as war heroes. Mike Tyson breeds and trains them, and they are monogamous (rare for anyone within city limits).
Most San Franciscans may not be ready to claim pigeons as pets, but we have been making fast friends with the feathered kind for a long time now. From Mark Bittner, who tended to the parrots of Telegraph Hill (that serenaded and disrupted my classes at the SF Art Institute) to the infamous bird people who roam the city with a bird on their shoulders, some have found a soft spot for their smarts and sensitivity.
Here are some locals who choose birds over dogs, bunnies, or fish to be their pets and share their homes.
Owner: Glendon Anna Conda Hyde
Bird Name: Conrad
Breed: Severe Macaw
I am afraid to be too sentimental about my relationship with Conrad. He is quite demanding and a bit cranky, but oh, we are so smitten with each other. So it all works out. It’s not love that Conrad has taught me about, because I would have had to know about love before to be able to put up with his demands, but more like commitment. It has been 16 years with Mr. Bird and we have dated a nice guy and seen a marriage end. We have lived in Hayes Valley, the Mission, the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, and SOMA. No matter where I go, he is with me, and he’s content to crawl under the covers in the evening and snuggle down for some good head rubbing and finger nibbles while I watch modeling shows from around the world. We’re content.
It’s nice to be trusted and trust. You see, macaws mate for life, and Conrad has chosen me. He told me I was his by puking up for me the second time we met. His charms were obviously effective since I made the down payment on him that very day. I now flag “Roman Shower, Bottom.” I guess Republicans were right to question what comes after gay marriage. Because for all purposes, I have married a bird. Conrad constantly reminds me it could be worse. I could be striving for a heteronormative life, and he knows that assimilation might just end our relationship.
Owner: Christopher Radcool Reynolds, Co-Founder, Reynolds-Sebastiani Design Services
Birds’ Names: Loca and Edward the III, Zoila and Geoff
Breeds: Zebra Finches and Diamond Doves
As a boy, I dreamt about pet birds I could play with. As an adult, I'm realizing this dream and sharing it with others. At my work, we're making custom aviaries and birdcages for clients' homes and gardens. A friend asked recently how I became the crazy bird guy. My response was simple, "I was bored." I am passionate about design, gardens, and construction, but when those things became second nature I wanted something new to explore.
While watching YouTube videos of free-flight birds, I was surprised to discover that with a little conditioning, letting birds out of their cages for free flight is simple. Virtually all birds can be let out either inside or outside, though extra caution should be used if you are considering letting your birds free fly outside of your home. Letting your birds out to fly is as natural and necessary as taking your dog for a walk. They learn to expect it and need the exercise. They will return, on their own, to rest in the security of their cage.
I think all people are inspired by the freedom of flight. Everyone has dreams about flying, but the closest I have come to it in reality is by watching my birds fly.
Owners: Kirsten Incorvaia and Dana Shaw, Editor at High/Low
Bird Name: Nala
Breed: Yellow-Sided Green-Cheeked Conure
You know you’re a bird person when:
1. Having bird poop on your shoulder feels fashionable.
2. You feature your parrot on the save-the-date to your wedding.
3. You Skype chat other peoples’ parrots with your parrot.
4. Your parrot calls out edit points when you work on ﬁlms at home.
5. You get psyched when the cherry-headed conures of Telegraph Hill do a “ﬂy-by-birding.”
6. Taking showers with your parrot becomes normal.
7. Your bird’s diet is better than yours.
8. You use your bird to man-scape your beard or mustache.
9. The only thing that separates you from a pirate is not having a ship with a ﬁrst mate.
10. You’re featured on The Bold Italic as a bird freak.
Owner: Alysia Sebastiani, Co-Founder, Reynolds-Sebastiani Design Services
Bird Name: Sherbs
There it was in all its glory. The orange and gold Hendryx birdcage sent down from the heavens. I fell in love. It was gorgeous, and due to my obsession with interiors, I couldn't stop thinking about it. We clearly needed each other. Soon after, I rescued it from the window of a bird store in Noe Valley called The Animal Company. It was perfect. But what was I gonna put in it? A plant? Taxidermy from my grandparents? Or nothing at all?
It hadn't even occurred to me that I would put a real bird in it. Until I met a breathtaking sherbet-colored red factor canary, who I now call Sherbs. He just happened to match my living room. I was told that he would sing to try and attract a mate, but I had no idea how spectacular his concert would be. Like most music, listening to Sherbs is very therapeutic. I look forward to hearing his song in the morning when I wake up and in the evening when I come home.
Since, I have built him a custom aviary so he can truly spread his wings. In the end, the cage that brought us together sits empty, but just as beautiful as ever.
Owner: Naomi Ling, Manager at The Animal Company
Bird Name: Burrito
Breed: 26-year-old Yellow Nape Amazon Parrot
I met Burrito a year ago when she was looking for a new home. I loved her right away. She was shy at first, but quickly learned she could trust me. She is affectionate, cuddly, and very sweet. She is tentative with strangers and will only let some people pick her up, but will take a peanut from anyone! Burrito is a very happy bird. She is super talkative and loves to scream, play with wooden toys, and swing upside down from the top of her cage. It has been wonderful to have Burrito in my life. The experience of meeting a new bird and developing a mutual trust, understanding, and love is incredible!
Burrito's Words: Hi. Hello. What? Up Up. Burrrrrito! and wolf whistles.
Burrito's Favorite Foods: apples, peanuts, safflower, and kale.
Life Span: Upwards of 50 years.
Owner: Chan Quach
Birds’ Names: Bella, Rudy
Breed: 7-month-old Scarlet Macaw, 2-year-old Greenwing Macaw
My birds are like my human children. They rely on my daily routine and may panic or become cautious when there is change in the environment or in my schedule (though it is good to sometimes surprise them). They are flock birds, so they always want to be in your presence and miss you dearly when you don't come home or change your routine. They become very worried as shown in voice and body language.
One of the most challenging aspects of having them in my life is that it is extremely difficult to find someone that can accept them, too. Many admire them and are curious about me having them. However, I find many who are interested in establishing a relationship with me cannot handle the birds. Bird and human psychology are extremely sharp in comparison to dogs or cats. Though humans are highly intelligent, I find many not able to calm and stabilize their minds and behavior to a level that allows them to connect with birds.
Many of us tend to lose that ability to let go of control to openly and happily accept someone else like another human or in this case, a bird, to allow a loving relationship to develop. I have long desired to see this happen in my own life and find this person. I only hope that I can squawk and chirp to let my feathered children know so they can understand. In the meantime, I allow my mind, body, and soul to fly with them as we explore the world by bicycle.