Parrots live in western lands
hunters bring them back in nets
courtesans tease them dawn to dusk
somewhere behind palace curtains
they're given a golden cage
but locked away their plumage fades
not like wild geese and swans
flying up in the clouds

Han Shan

A robin red breast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage

William Blake

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: The Book

People often ask, “Which came first, the book or the film?” The answer is: the book. I'd already been working on it for several years at the time I met Judy. My original title was Tales from an Urban Jungle: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. But the publisher, Harmony Books, thought Tales from an Urban Jungle was too similar to the title of another book, so they used my subtitle. There was some concern, however, that people would think it was a science book. So I came up with The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story. The publisher added ...with wings. But I always forget that there even is a subtitle. For me, it's always been simply The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

The book did very well, going on to become a New York Times bestseller. As of this writing, the paperback is in its tenth printing. But many more people have seen the movie than read the book. For one thing, more Americans watch movies than read books. I've also discovered that many people assume it's a retelling of the movie in book form. But the two projects were conceived of and worked on totally independent of each other—save for some gratefully accepted copy editing by Judy. While different, the two projects do complement one another. The film depicts my last year with the flock, while my book tells the full six-year story.

The book is based on the diary I kept during my time with the flock, a diary that grew to more than 1500 type-written pages. The story unfolds as I experienced it and includes what was happening in my life apart from the flock. If you're interested in scientific information about parrots, you'll find it here. But my first concern is the story itself—not as entertainment (although there is plenty of that; parrots are nothing, if not entertaining), but as a story about life and death and what that all means.

One of my main goals in writing the book was to show, through the stories of the individual birds, that the wild creatures we see around us are just as concerned with their day-to-day woes and joys as we are. There is a lengthy chapter devoted to the issues of consciousness and anthropomorphism.

If you can't find the book in your local independent bookstore, here is the Amazon link: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.