A Strange and Difficult Week

My involvement with the wild parrot flock here in San Francisco ended fourteen years ago, and yet from time to time I still find myself being called back to them. People often used to bring me injured or sick members of the flock that they found, but it’s been awhile since that last happened. This week, two parrots came into my life. The first time, a guy was on his way to work when he noticed a parrot in the middle of Columbus Avenue near the intersection with Broadway. Both are extremely busy streets. This fellow is new to town and didn’t know anything about the flock. He just saw a parrot in the middle of the street and decided it needed to be rescued. He brought it to his office, did a little online research, and found out about me. He emailed me, and I went to get the bird. The parrots have a terrifying habit of swooping down low into traffic and then pulling up again. Occasionally they hit cars. My first assumption was that this was the case with this bird. But when I got him home I noticed that he had a bare patch on his throat, that is, the feathers were missing. When a bird becomes ill, the other parrots will often attack him, and they often go for the throat. The bird (a friend named him Broadway) was breathing through his open beak, which indicated respiratory problems. I put him in a cage and gave him some heat. He was woozy and he let me handle him without fear. So he was a very sick bird. About two hours after I got him home, he dropped from his perch and landed on his back—dead.

A week later, I got a call from a neighbor who told me there was a parrot in a tree next to her house, that he’d been there a full day. She’d seen him on her roof the previous day, standing at the base of a plexiglass wind break, unable to fly. When she tried to pick him up, he’d jumped into the tree that he was in now. She was fairly certain he’d flown into the windbreak and been injured in the collision. We managed to get him out of the tree, and I discovered that he was breathing heavily. I could hear fluid in his lungs. I took him home and put him in the same cage I’d put Broadway in. Less than a half hour later, the same thing happened to this bird as happened to Broadway: He fell off the perch and died. It was a bit painful having to bury two of them in one week.


Mr. Mingus

Making the week all the stranger was that in between the deaths of these two parrots, Mingus died. If you’ve seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, you’ll remember Mingus as the parrot who used to dance to my guitar playing. For the last fourteen years, he’s been down in the Oasis Sanctuary near Benson, Arizona. I went to see him a couple of times. He was the last parrot still living from my time with the flock. And now he’s gone, breaking that connection forever. Mingus’ act was often difficult to take. He was a lovable rogue—utterly charming and infuriatingly aggressive. I had to throw him outside many times and make him sleep in the trees because of his attacks on other birds that I was caring for. Sometimes he’d fly to a fuchsia growing next to my window and cry, begging to be let back in. (He’d been a pet once, although he was born in the wild in South America.) I usually did let him back in. I could seldom stay angry at Mingus for very long. But he could be extraordinarily cruel. Once, when I wasn’t home, he chewed the toe nails off a bird I was taking care of. The toe nails never grew back. Mingus lived a long life for a conure. At least 25 years, quite possibly more. He had girlfriends at the Oasis, and companionship is what a parrot craves most. I will never forget Mr. Mingus, aka, Mingus the Mongoose. In the end, I have to say that he was a friend of mine.


11 Responses to “A Strange and Difficult Week”

  1. rainnnn Says:

    That is hard when we lose someone we are trying to help. Hope your coming week goes easier. Sounds like Mingus got a good life at least.

  2. John Shepherd Says:

    The cycle of life is difficult for those left behind. These little guys had a friend in you and that is a gift to both you and them. I am sorry for your loss. It sounds like you still have a connection with these wonderful creatures. Maybe, you need to re-connect and get involved again. I am so pleased that you made the film and invited all of us to share a bit of that great work that you did with the flock. We, too, feel connected. Thank you again for that experience.

  3. Aurelle Says:

    Mark, I think of Mingus dancing now in a place of pure radiance, shining with health and unbounded joy. Your kindness to Broadway and the other poor injured one was the great gift of warmth and quiet and safety from predators, and it must have made the moment of leaving a little easier for each of them. Wishing you comfort, strength, and peace in this time of loss.

  4. Kate Says:

    Many hugs to you.

  5. klia Says:

    I’m so sorry, especially that they all happened in such a short time.

  6. Jeff Says:

    When you write about what you connect with your words come across alive and on fire in the most heartfelt of ways.

  7. Jodi Mae Mitchell Says:

    I am so sorry to hear of the loss of 3 birds, and of course, especially Mingus. He brought so many people laughter and joy who have watched the movie. RIP

  8. David Says:

    I remember Mingus. What a character! We forget how animals have their own individuality–their own soul. We share the planet with them and too often take them for granted. I read a story a while back about a young crow that was tagged and followed in an urban setting as part of a research project. The writer had obvioulsy grown fond of the wiley bird, which came to an urban end — altercation with a car. Still, reading these stories reminds us that we are all creatures on this earth. Animals have their own wisdom and dignity.

  9. Tim Mueller Says:

    A giving heart must endure a lot of pain.

  10. Vickie Pavlik Says:

    I am sorry for your losses.

  11. Kelly Says:

    Damn. The curse of threes. I’m sorry, Mark.

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